Computer Simulation of Saturn’s Ring Structure

Cole Kendrick
Los Alamos High School
New Mexico Supercomputing Challenge, 2013


   title={Computer Simulation of Saturn’s Ring Structure},

   author={Kendrick, Cole and Kendrick, Brian},



The main goal of this project is to develop a computer program to model the creation of structure in Saturn’s ring system. The computer program will be used to answer these questions: (1) How are gaps in Saturn’s Rings formed; (2) how accurately can I model gap formation with a 3D N-Body simulation; and (3) will my simulation compare to observed features, theoretical data, and professional simulations. Newton’s laws of motion and gravity as well as the velocity Verlet method are being used to orbit the particles around Saturn. Gaps in Saturn’s ring system are caused by three main methods: (1) Gravitational resonances; (2) moons that orbit inside the ring; and (3) an asteroid or comet impact. Gravitational resonances are a major part of formation in the ring system, and are caused by a special ratio of orbits between a moon and a ring particle. Many different simulations were run to determine which moons are responsible for which gaps in the ring system. A patch method was developed in order to get a high particle density which allows for more accurate results. Many professionals are using a rotating patch method which achieves the same thing, however my patch method is unique and very easy compared to the rotating method. A simulation that involved an asteroid impact was run to determine the effects on the ring system. This simulation showed that an asteroid will cause a ripple effect that may eventually form a large ring. There are no professional simulations for an asteroid impact to date, however my simulation matches a professional "cartoon" of what is expected to happen. Many different computers were used for this project, and the code was parallelized using both MPI and OpenCL. This project requires the use of parallel computing in order to simulate the large number of ring particles needed to achieve an accurate simulation. My simulations proved certain moons cause certain gaps which matched the observed structure of Saturn’s rings.
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