The maths behind Saturn’s rings

Posted by vm64 at Feb 11, 2011 04:09 PM |
Free public lecture at University of Leicester on Tuesday 15 February

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 11 February 2011

A public lecture on Tuesday 15 February will explain how the rings of Saturn behave like a fluid. 

Dr Nikolai Brilliantov from the University of Leicester Department of Mathematics will speak on ‘Statistical mechanics of granular matter: simple concepts and complex phenomena’.

Dr Brilliantov’s work involves studying how something made of loose particles can behave like a solid, liquid or gas. For example, dry sand acts like a solid when you stand on it but like a liquid when you try to scoop some up in your hand.

The rings of Saturn are made up of millions of rocks which behave like the molecules in a gas. Dr Brilliantov has made a special study of the outermost ring which is unusual because it is composed of ice crystals.

NASA Cassini mission showed that these ice crystals all come from giant fountains on Enceladus, one of Saturn’s larger moons. Dr Brilliantov’s mathematical work has shown precisely how the ice thrown out from Enceladus is able to form over time into a giant ring encircling the whole planet.

“I find it amazing how mathematicians who have never looked into a telescope can quantify phenomena which are billions of miles apart,” says Dr Brilliantov. “Moreover, they can say with confidence: there is liquid water on this small moon and it was there for the last few millions of years!”

The lecture is free and open to the public. It takes place in the University’s Ken Edwards Building, Lecture Theatre 1, from 5.30pm.

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