Smallest Body Possible to Have Rings

  1. What is the lower mass limit for a body to have rings?

    I'm thinking that Chariklo, at 155 miles in diameter is pretty small. Gravity would be so weak you'd have to hold on just to not 'jump' off with every step.


    Cheers,
    3point14rat
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Simon Bridge

    Simon Bridge 14,379
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    Last edited: Mar 28, 2014
  4. Awesome link Simon, very easy to understand. Thank you.
     
  5. So, there is no minimum size an object can have, below which it cannot support rings? The Roche Limit sounds like it's the closest an object can orbit without breaking up, not the minimum size the primary object must be to have the gravity necessary to support rings.

    I'm asking because the discovery of Centaur Chariklo doesn't seem to have raised much skepticism over the fact that such a tiny object has rings. I'm just a guy who read an article on it and immediately thought that there's no way something that small could hold onto anything, let alone a couple of rings.

    Is my ignorance showing?
     
  6. mfb

    Staff: Mentor

    "Support" is always a matter of time for rings, but there is no fundamental limit that says "this object is too small, it cannot have a ring".
    Right - as long as internal stiffness of the objects is negligible. This is a good assumptions for large objects, it can be wrong for small objects.
    You can make two billard balls orbit each other in space if you like. Why not? They just have to move very slowly (and don't be too close to other massive objects).
     
    1 person likes this.
  7. Simon Bridge

    Simon Bridge 14,379
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    What he said.
    I'd add that the radius of the small object may be a limiting factor.
    Though I haven't done the math for a body whose radius is bigger than it's Roche limit.

    When you hear "rings" you tend to think "Saturn" ... but there is no need for rings to be so spectacular or even visible. Rings are generally be difficult to detect unless very big and/or they have lots of ice in them.
    These ones were detected by stellar occultation with spectrographic data in support.

    There's a decent reference:
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature13155.html
    ... there's plenty there but the bulk is (sadly) behind a paywall.

    Phil Plait (aka Bad Astronomy) has a nice discussion on the findings:
    http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astr...he_first_non_planet_found_to_have_a_ring.html

    But basically you have not seen skepticism concerning rings about such a small object because it is scientifically plausible with well known mechanisms. The main iffy bit is that there are two well-defined rings and Phil talks about that (link above).
     
    1 person likes this.
  8. I read Phil's article and the data really does demonstrate rings. That's awesome.

    I'm still very suprised that there are rings on such a small object and that it may even have a tiny moon that's herding the rings. These situations must have a very limited life span, so we're very fortunate to be around when it's discovered.

    So glad I came on here to see what smart people had to say on the subject. Thanks a heap


    Cheers,
    3point14rat
     
  9. LURCH

    LURCH 2,512
    Science Advisor

    Last I heard, astronomers were still looking for the mechanism by which these rings might have been formed. This centaur's gravity is too weak for the usual method of tidal forces tearing a satellite apart. I have been thinking that this centaur orbits at a distance from the Sun at which ice (water ice) does not sublimate. But what about ammonia or methane or CO2?
     
  10. mfb

    Staff: Mentor

    This just depends on the density ratio, as
    $$d = 1.26\; R\left( \frac {\rho_M} {\rho_m} \right)^{\frac{1}{3}}$$
    where d is the Roche limit and R is the radius of the primary object and the densities are the averages over the whole objects. Roche limit and radius scale in the same way.
     
Know someone interested in this topic? Share a link to this question via email, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook