Earth, Moon, and Planets

, Volume 30, Issue 3, pp 209–228

Formation of the saturnian system: A modern Laplacian theory

  • A. J. R. Prentice

DOI: 10.1007/BF00056200

Cite this article as:
Prentice, A.J.R. Earth Moon Planet (1984) 30: 209. doi:10.1007/BF00056200


A theory for the formation of Saturn and its family of satellites, which is based on ideas of supersonic turbulent convection applied to the original Laplacian hypothesis, is presented. It is shown that if the primitive rotating cloud which gravitationally contracted to form Saturn possessed the same level of turbulent kinetic energy as the clouds which formed Jupiter and the Sun, given by % MathType!MTEF!2!1!+-% feaafiart1ev1aaatCvAUfeBSjuyZL2yd9gzLbvyNv2CaerbuLwBLn% hiov2DGi1BTfMBaeXatLxBI9gBaerbd9wDYLwzYbItLDharqqtubsr% 4rNCHbGeaGqiVu0Je9sqqrpepC0xbbL8F4rqqrFfpeea0xe9Lq-Jc9% vqaqpepm0xbba9pwe9Q8fs0-yqaqpepae9pg0FirpepeKkFr0xfr-x% fr-xb9adbaqaaeGaciGaaiaabeqaamaabaabaaGcbaWaaSqaaSqaai% aaigdaaeaacaaIYaaaaOGaaiikaiabeg8aYnaaBaaajea4baGaamiD% aaWcbeaakiaadAhadaqhaaqcKfaGaeaadaWgaaqcKjaGaeaacaWG0b% aabeaaaSqaaiaaikdaaaGccaGGPaGaeyypa0ZaaSqaaSqaaiaaigda% aeaacaaIYaaaaOGaeqOSdiMaeqyWdiNaam4raiaad2eacaGGOaGaam% OCaiaacMcacaGGVaGaamOCaaaa!4D3D!\[\tfrac{1}{2}(\rho _t v_{_t }^2 ) = \tfrac{1}{2}\beta \rho GM(r)/r\] where β=0.1065 ± 0.0015, then it would shed a concentric system of orbiting gas rings each of about the same mass: namely, 1.0 × 10−3MS. The orbital radii Rn(n = 0, 1, 2, ...) of these gas rings form a geometric sequence similar to the observed distances of the regular satellites. It is proposed that the satellites condensed from the gas rings one at a time, commencing with Iapetus which originally occupied a circular orbit at radius 11.4 RS. As the temperatures of the gas rings Tnincrease with decreasing orbital size according as Tn∫ 1/Rn, a uniform gradient should be evident amongst the satellite compositions: Mimas is expected to be the rockiest and Iapetus the least rocky satellite. The densities predicted by the model coincide with the Voyager-determined values. Iapetus contains some 8% by weight solid CH4. Titan is believed to be a captured satellite. It was probably responsible for driving Iapetus to its present distant orbit. Accretional time-scales and the post-accretional evolution of the satellites are briefly discussed.

Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. J. R. Prentice
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of MathematicsMonash UniversityClaytonAustralia