DDA 2015 – Recent Formation of Saturnian Moons: Constraints from Their Cratering Records

This is one of a series of notes taken during the 2015 meeting of the AAS Division on Dynamical Astronomy, 3-7 May, at CalTech. An index to this series (all the papers presented at the meeting) is here.

Session: Moon Formation and Dynamics I

Henry C. (Luke) Dones (SWRI)


Charnoz et al. (2010) proposed that Saturn’s small “ring moons” out to Janus and Epimetheus consist of ring material that viscously spread beyond the Roche limit and coagulated into moonlets. The moonlets evolve outward due to the torques they exert at resonances in the rings. More massive moonlets migrate faster; orbits can cross and bodies can merge, resulting in a steep trend of mass vs. distance from the planet. Canup (2010) theorized that Saturn’s rings are primordial and originated when a differentiated, Titan-like moon migrated inward when the planet was still surrounded by a gas disk. The satellite’s icy shell could have been tidally stripped, and would have given rise to today’s rings and the mid-sized moons out to Tethys. Charnoz et al. (2011) investigated the formation of satellites out to Rhea from a spreading massive ring, and Crida and Charnoz (2012) extended this scenario to other planets. Once the mid-sized moons recede far from the rings, tidal interaction with the planet determines the rate at which the satellites migrate. Charnoz et al. (2011) found that Mimas would have formed about 1 billion years more recently than Rhea. The cratering records of these moons (Kirchoff and Schenk 2010; Robbins et al. 2015) provide a test of this scenario. If the mid-sized moons are primordial, most of their craters were created through hypervelocity impacts by ecliptic comets from the Kuiper Belt/Scattered Disk (Zahnle et al. 2003; Dones et al. 2009). In the Charnoz et al. scenario, the oldest craters on the moons would result from low-speed accretionary impacts. We thank the Cassini Data Analysis program for support.

Canup, R. M. (2010). Nature 468, 943
Charnoz, S.; Salmon, J., Crida, A. (2010). Nature 465, 752
Charnoz, S., et al. (2011). Icarus 216, 535
Crida, A.; Charnoz, S. (2012). Science 338, 1196
Dones, L., et al. (2009). In Saturn from Cassini-Huygens, p. 613
Kirchoff, M. R.; Schenk, P. (2010). Icarus 206, 485
Robbins, S. J.; Bierhaus, E. B.; Dones, L. (2015). Lunar and Planetary Science Conference 46, abstract 1654
Zahnle, K.; Schenk, P.; Levison, H.; Dones, L. (2003). Icarus 163, 263


  • Can cratering records constrain moon ages?
    • see http://space.jpl.nasa.gov
    • small inner moons (and Mimas) interact strongly with rings — the so-called “ring moons”
      • migrated from outer edge of rings ~100 Myr
    • regular moons (Mimas-Iapetus) are (assumed?) primordial
    • transition is abrupt where tidal forces prevent formation
    • formation of moons from spreading rings:Charnoz et al. 2010,Canup 2010,Charnoz et al. 2011,Crida &Charnoz 2012
      • ring spreads viscously
      • outside Roche limit, formation
    • Lainey et al. 2012: dissipation stronger than thought
      • decreases timescale considerably
  • Impact rates
    • $R_{moon} = R_J \dfrac{R_S}{R_J} \dfrac{R_{moon}}{R_S}$
    • Crater scaling: diameter vs. velocity
    • impacts/$10^9$ yr: Mimas 8.5, Rhea 48
    • Mimas & Rhea counts: Robbins et al. 2015 (LPSC)
    • plot: #craters larger than D vs. D
    • Mimas: saturated up to $D \sim 20-45$ km
    • Rhea: saturated up to $D \sim 25$ km
  • Summary
    • Mimas: Craters are near saturation for diameters < 20 km
    • Rhea: saturation < 25 km
    • Ages may be underestimated

Leave a Reply