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I'm looking for a way to strip Saturn of its rings.

I'm imagining the planet coming in on the same plane as the rings, counter orbitting Saturn long enough to destroy, absorb, or deflect the majority of the debris field and continue on its merry way out of the solar system.

If a planet the size of Uranus were to come blazing into the solar system, opposite the planetary orbits around the sun and skim Saturn, would this be possible without the two colliding?

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  • $\begingroup$ Time would do that just fine. Otherwise, a series of stray asteroids might help. $\endgroup$ – Fayth85 Aug 18 '16 at 19:24
  • $\begingroup$ Jupiter likely tossed a 5th gas giant out of our solar system already and it did that without collision. Seems possible to me if it's the route you want to story tell. astronomynow.com/2015/11/03/… $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Aug 18 '16 at 19:32
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The rings are inside the roche limit, so any object coming close enough to Saturn to hit the rings will also be inside Saturn’s roche limit. Passing this close is how to create rings, not destroy them.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ouch...that made my head hurt. But if I understand the article, both bodies could have a roche limit such that they'd tear at one another? In which case, Saturn's rings would be the least of the problem. $\endgroup$ – Steve Mangiameli Aug 18 '16 at 19:46
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    $\begingroup$ Read this for your headache. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Aug 18 '16 at 19:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Steve: Both bodies will have a Roche limit: it's a natural property of any object. Small objects, on the human scale have low mass and structural strength, so their gravitational effects on each other are so small as to be unnoticeable. Large planets have very little structural strength in comparison to the gravity of other large planets at short distances, o if you put them too close together, they fall apart. $\endgroup$ – John Dallman Aug 18 '16 at 20:29
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    $\begingroup$ Understood. So an object the size of jupiter, getting that close, would definitely disrupt the rings, but not in the way I'm imagining. It's possible both planets would end up sheering off a good portion of each other making a really big mess. That would definitely quality for natual disaster. I wonder what the implications of that event would be. $\endgroup$ – Steve Mangiameli Aug 18 '16 at 20:39
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    $\begingroup$ Try Universe Sandbox to see if that lets you model it. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Aug 18 '16 at 21:18
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Since the core question is actually how to strip the rings of the planet Saturn this answer will ignore a runaway planet Uranus because this has too many problems and may not do the job anyway.

Simply throw a great big dirty snowball at the rings of Saturn and have it moving in the opposite direction of the rotation of Saturn's rings. Big dirty snowballs are better known as comets. This works best if the comet is travelling sufficiently slowly that it falls into orbit around Saturn. It will keep moving in the debris field of the rings. Each successive impact, it send fragments of the rings either spirally down into a lower orbit where there will be further collisions.

Outgassing from the comet will throw up a braking cloud and decelerate ring fragments. Eventually the rings will descend low enough that the outer edges of the atmosphere will further decelerate the rings for their final plunge as meteorites.

Obviously the comet necessary to create this planetary ring clearing Kessler Effect will need to be large and fairly gassy. The cascade will need to be excessive compared to mere space travel blocking Kessler syndrome.

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  • $\begingroup$ How does something “fall into orbit”? $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Aug 19 '16 at 5:59
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry for not being clear. The phrase "fall into orbit" was intended to indicate that the comet moving towards the planet in a hyperbolic path was captured gravitationally by Saturn and goes into orbit around it. $\endgroup$ – a4android Aug 19 '16 at 6:31
  • $\begingroup$ same thing... “falling” is how it works the orbit it's currently on. Changing orbits requires some thrust and application of momentum. If the comet is travelling sufficienly slowly it already is in orbit; if not it is hyperbolic. If it's not in orbit already then the accelleration as it falls near will make it “not slow” as it passes: kenetic energy + potential energy is concerved. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Aug 19 '16 at 6:40
  • $\begingroup$ Look this is getting too pendantic. The base concept: relative velocity on initial approach so comet is gravitationally captured by Saturn and goes into orbit. One natural language phrase and the result orbital mechanics purgatory. $\endgroup$ – a4android Aug 19 '16 at 7:18
  • $\begingroup$ That's just it: it won’t just decide to stick around. Falling in will make it fast enough that it will fall out to the same extent. Capture needs a complex 3-body interaction or thrust such as a collision. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Aug 19 '16 at 8:19

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