The Christiansen Effect in Saturn's narrow dusty rings and the spectral identification of clumps in the F ring

M. M. Hedman, P. D. Nicholson, M. R. Showalter, R. H. Brown, B. J. Buratti, R. N. Clark, K. Baines, C. Sotin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Stellar occultations by Saturn's rings observed with the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) onboard the Cassini spacecraft reveal that dusty features such as the F ring and the ringlets in the Encke and the Laplace Gaps have distinctive infrared transmission spectra. These spectra show a narrow optical depth minimum at wavelengths around 2.87μm. This minimum is likely due to the Christiansen Effect, a reduction in the extinction of small particles when their (complex) refractive index is close to that of the surrounding medium. Simple Mie-scattering models demonstrate that the strength of this opacity dip is sensitive to the size distribution of particles between 1 and 100μm across. Furthermore, the spatial resolution of the occultation data is sufficient to reveal variations in the transmission spectra within and among these rings. In both the Encke Gap ringlets and F ring, the opacity dip weakens with increasing local optical depth, which is consistent with the larger particles being concentrated near the cores of these rings. The Encke Gap ringlets also show systematically weaker opacity dips than the F ring and Laplace Gap ringlet, implying that the former has a smaller fraction of grains less than ~30μm across. However, the strength of the opacity dip varies most dramatically within the F ring; certain compact regions of enhanced optical depth lack an opacity dip and therefore appear to have a greatly reduced fraction of grains in the few-micron size range. Such spectrally-identifiable structures probably represent a subset of the compact optically-thick clumps observed by other Cassini instruments. These variations in the ring's particle size distribution can provide new insights into the processes of grain aggregation, disruption and transport within dusty rings. For example, the unusual spectral properties of the F-ring clumps could perhaps be ascribed to small grains adhering onto the surface of larger particles in regions of anomalously low velocity dispersion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)695-711
Number of pages17
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Planetary rings
  • Saturn, rings
  • Spectroscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


Dive into the research topics of 'The Christiansen Effect in Saturn's narrow dusty rings and the spectral identification of clumps in the F ring'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this