The Vertical Structure of the F Ring of Saturn from Ring-Plane Crossings

We present a photometric model of the rings of Saturn which includes the main rings and an F ring, inclined to the main rings, with a Gaussian vertical profile of optical depth. This model reproduces the asymmetry in brightness between the east and west ansae of the rings of Saturn that was observed by the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) within a few hours after the Earth ring-plane crossing (RPX) of 10 August 1995. The model shows that during this observation the inclined F ring unevenly blocked the east and west ansae of the main rings. The brightness asymmetry produced by the model is highly sensitive to the vertical thickness and radial optical depth of the F ring. The F ring model that best matches the observations has a vertical full width at half maximum of 13 +/- 7 km and an equivalent depth of 10 +/- 4 km. The model also reproduces the shape of the HST profiles of ring brightness vs. distance from Saturn, both before and after the time of ring-plane crossing. Smaller asymmetries observed before the RPX, when the Earth was on the dark side of the rings, cannot be explained by blocking of the main rings by the F ring or vice versa and are probably instead due to the intrinsic longitudinal variation exhibited by the F ring.

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Date added: Mon, 14 Oct 13