Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Larry Esposito

Second Advisor

Nick Schneider

Third Advisor

Dave Brain

Fourth Advisor

Dan Scheeres

Fifth Advisor

Ann-Marie Madigan


The rings of Saturn are the largest and most complex in the Solar System. Decades of observation from ground- and space-based observatories and spacecraft missions have revealed the broad structure of the rings and the intricate interactions between the planet’s moons and its rings. Stellar occultations observed by the Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph’s High Speed Photometer onboard the Cassini spacecraft now enable the direct study of the small-scale structure that results from these interactions. In this dissertation, I present three distinct phenomena resulting from the small-scale physics of the rings.

Many resonance locations with Saturn’s external satellites lie within the main (A and B) rings. Two of these satellites, Janus and Epimetheus, have a unique co-orbital relationship and move radially to switch positions every 4.0 years. This motion also moves the resonance locations within the rings. As the spiral density waves created at these resonances interact, they launch an enormous solitary wave every eight years. I provide the first-ever observations of this never-predicted phenomenon and detail a possible formation mechanism.

Previous studies have reported a population of kilometer-scale aggregates in Saturn’s F ring, which likely form as a result of self-gravitation between ring particles in Saturn’s Roche zone. I expand the known catalog of features in UVIS occultations and provide the first estimates of their density derived from comparisons with the A ring. These features are orders of magnitude less dense than previously believed, a fact which reconciles them with detections made by other means.

Theory and indirect observations indicate that the smallest regular structures in the rings are wavelike aggregates called self-gravity wakes. Using the highest-resolution occulta- tions, I provide the first-ever direct detection of these features by identifying the gaps that represent the minima of the wakes. I demonstrate that the distribution of these gaps is con- sistent with the broad brightness asymmetries previously observed in the rings. Furthermore, the presence of spiral density waves affects the formation of self-gravity waves.