Stranger Rings in the Kuiper Belt
Guest blogger Sue Kientz gifts us with some celestial jewelry in the form of her thought-provoking, groundbreaking article on planetary rings in the Kuiper Belt, that icy region past Neptune which may be populated by thousands of dwarf and minor planets. And so, without further ado, here’s Sue!
Saturn’s rings have been explored close-up by robotic spacecraft and found to be small moonlets marshaled into ring shape by nearby moons. Separating the rings are distinct gaps, also made by lunar influences, both examples of how small bodies can be surprisingly influential and in beautiful ways.
This design structure repeats. Saturn is not the only one with rings; Jupiter has gossamer rings as do Uranus and Neptune. Centaur Chariklo and Dwarf Planet Haumea have them. Even the Sun has a huge ring — the main-belt asteroids, corralled by Jupiter and Mars.
So it should not surprise that there is ring-like structure in the Kuiper Belt, itself the Sun’s “outer” ring, maintained by Neptune, but not without gravitational coaxings from Uranus, Saturn, and Jupiter. These giants use gravity to “bully” big Dwarf Planets into safe zones where they peacefully orbit. If they stray from these zones, they’re thrown clear of our solar system or pulled inward and broken into asteroids.