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No. 49: Jan-Feb 1987

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Neptune's strange necklace

The puzzling occultations of stars by Neptune have led scientists to postulate that discontinuous rings of debris rotate around the planet. (SF#38 and #40) But, given the number of recent failures to detect the ring at all, astronomers have been reduced to thinking about even weirder configurations of matter. The most recent model, by P. Goldreich et al, envisions a necklace of arcs in orbit, as illustrated. They calculate that the resonant effects of a yet undiscovered satellite in an inclined orbit could produce this strange pattern.

(Murray, Carl d.; "Arcs around Neptune," Nature, 324:209, 1986.)

Comment. Voyager 2 will encounter Neptune in 1989. Hopefully, it will clear things up ringwise. Or, it may photograph something even more exotic, like some 2001-like monoliths in orbit!!

Possible configuration for ring and arcs and a confining satellite in orbit around Neptune A possible configuration for ring and arcs and a confining satellite in orbit around Neptune, according to the theory of Goldreich et al. Radial variations are exagerated. (Would any astronomer, even 10 years ago, have countenanced such a spectacle in the Solar System?)

From Science Frontiers #49, JAN-FEB 1987. 1987-2000 William R. Corliss