I've been wondering about this for a while. Here is the research I've done so far that lead me to ask this question:
- A planetary ring system is most often formed by the breakup of objects within the Roche limit of a planet.
- Higher mass objects exert a greater force on its surrounding material (this is just a generalized statement; I am aware it is much more complicated than that, involving the mass of both objects as well as their distance and several other factors)
This makes me wonder if it is possible under certain circumstances that adding enough mass to a planet with a ring system can cause a massive chain reaction. This process might involve the following steps:
- A series of large collisions impact the planet, which increases its mass.
- The objects nearest to the planet in the innermost layers of the ring system experience orbital decay, eventually leading them to crash into the planet.
- This then adds even more mass to the planet, which causes this pattern to repeat itself until equilibrium is met. (such as a gap existing in the rings, where the nearest part of the ring system remains stable in spite of the added mass, which prevents further orbital decay)
Can adding mass to a ringed planet cause a massive chain reaction?
I have my doubts about whether this is possible:
- It's possible that the amount of mass added to a planet by the collapse of a portion of a ring system is not large enough to cause a chain reaction
- Perhaps the ring system would simply get a bit closer to the planet to compensate for the added mass
My guess is that it's possible under the right circumstances. Perhaps the innermost part of a ring system lies right outside an area that would exhibit enough atmospheric or electromagnetic drag to cause orbital decay. And maybe the ring system is primarily composed of a dense material such as iron (rather than rock and ice) which could add enough mass to the planet to allow this process to repeat itself.
- Say yes, no, or maybe and provide detailed supporting evidence, links or any other helpful knowledge that pertains to the question
If the answer is yes, this is possible, this could potentially help me to explain the formation of a giant, equatorial gash as is explored in my question How Can I Explain a Giant Equatorial Gash?. However, this question should be treated as an independent and unrelated issue.