Searching for an Earth ring

does the Earth have a ring system? does it affect weather?

In 1980, John O’Keefe suggested that an Earth ring could have caused the onset and breakup of an Ice Age (Nature 285, 309-311)  The idea is difficult to test observationally.  Yet it becomes more intriguing and perhaps likely as time goes by, as more and more planetary rings are discovered.  And it is a physically beautiful thing to consider.

How can we test the idea, short of flying a special purpose satellite toward the Sun where it could look backward to see the illuminated ring?  Well, here’s an idea.  Let’s see if we can forecast the weather accurately, months ahead, by hypothesizing that a ring system exists and working out what the consequences should be.

Here  is the first effort:

Very first ring-based weather guess.

Today is December 31, 2010.  From the second week of January 2011 forward, winter in the Northern Hemisphere will undergo a deep chill compared to today and compared to average Januaries (and Februaries, and Marches).  The cold anomaly will lighten somewhat on or about March 21, 2011, but the weather will still remain unusually cold until June 10 approx.

While the Northern Hemisphere is cold, however, the Southern Hemisphere will be having a relatively hot summer up to March 21.  The Southern Hemisphere will not rise to new levels of high temperature on any single day, but it will have many hot days.  Autumn in the Southern Hemisphere will suddenly cool, though, on or about the first week of June.

Here is the reasoning. (i) A ring in the equatorial plane (most common orientation, so let’s assume Earth has one of these) would shade the northern hemisphere from the Sun from September 21 to March 21.

(ii) A second ring orientation is also possible, a ring in the plane of the lunar orbit.  Saturn has one so we hypothesize that we have one too.  Such a ring would shade the Sun every year from the day of the Sun’s passage downward across the Moon’s orbit until the Sun’s passage upward across the Moon’s orbit (I think there is a name in Hindu for these two moving points on the ecliptic, “Rahu” and “Ketu”).   This year, the shaded period in the Northern Hemisphere would be approx December 11, 2010 to approx June 10, 2011.  The Southern Hemisphere, meantime, is shaded exactly when the North is not.

(iii) Last year’s winter was harsh, at about the time frame that would be accounted for by the lunar-plane ring, so we hypothesize that the lunar-plane ring must be particularly dense.  We further suppose that it is dense because of the quiet sun.  Solar activity can knock satellites out of their orbits so we can reasonably suppose that it tends to erode a ring too, by knocking material out of the marginally stable orbits.  OK, so the ring is dense, and it will stay dense until something perturbs the orbits.

(iv) The Southern Hemisphere is un-shaded when the Northern Hemisphere is shaded, so when NOrthern Hemisphere shade is diminished on March 21, the Southern Hemisphere receives that shade.  And when Northern Hemisphere shade from the lunar-plane ring is withdrawn entirely in June, then just then the Southern Hemisphere falls into shade.

(v) The reason weather may become more harsh in the second week of January than it is now (December 31) would be that, as O’Keefe noted in 1980 and as geometry readily confirms, the shading of the Sun by a ring in the equatorial plane should become less as the winter solstice nears.  The Sun is behind less and less material.  At tropical latitudes, the Sun probably fully emerges below the shade of the ring.  But at all latitudes, the shade is reduced as the solstice nears.  After the solstice, the Sun begins to rise upward toward the equator, and doing so, it slips again behind the shade of the equatorial-plane ring.  The cold therefore will return as the Sun is now making its way upward toward the equator.

Let’s see.

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3 Responses to Searching for an Earth ring

  1. Sankey Blanton says:

    Ceres and the ‘Asteroid Ring’ between the Sun and Jupiter.


    (1) Based on an erroneous theory about the placement of planets in the Solar System, the first member of the asteroid belt, Ceres – the largest object in the belt – was discovered on 01 January 1801 by G. Piazzi. Ceres comprises about one-third of the 2.3 EE21 kg estimated total mass of the asteroids belt – or should we call it a ring? Giuseppe Piazzi, a monk in Sicily, was the founding director of the Palermo Astronomical Observatory. Ceres was found within a gap between Mars and Jupiter where a planet was expected to reside, based on the spacing of the known planets in the solar system. Known as the Titius-Bode Law, this prediction was named for astronomers who had noticed in the 1760s and 1770s that the relative distances of the six known planets from the Sun seemed to fit a mathematical relationship. Although it is called a “law,” it has no basis in physics.

    Ceres has a diameter of 960 × 932 km with a mass of 8.7 EE20 kg. Its rotation period is 9.075 hours with an orbital period of 4.60 years at a distance of 2.767AU. Astronomers had been hunting for this phantom planet since Uranus was discovered in 1781.

    (2) The mass of the Sun is approximately 2 EE30 kilograms and accounts for about 99.86% of the total mass of the Solar System.

    (3) Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and the largest planet within the Solar System. It is a gas giant with a mass slightly less than one-thousandth of the Sun but is two and a half times the mass of all the other planets in our Solar System combined ~ 1.8986 EE27 kg. Jupiter’s distance from the Sun is between [Aphelion] 5.458104 AU and [Perihelion] 4.950429 AU; the semi-major axis of the ellipse is ~ 5.204267 AU. The asteroid ring lies a little more than half-way between the Sun and Jupiter (mass ratio J:S about 1: 1053.4).

    (4) Earth has a mass of 5.9736 EE24 kg, compared to the Moon’s mass of 7.349 EE22 kg for a mass ratio M:E about 1: 81.3. Based of the asteroid ring position between the two major mass object of the Solar System, it could be expected that any debris ring around Earth might be closer to the Moon by a significant factor however, based on the existence of the asteroid ring, there would seem to be no reason that their should not be a dust/debris particle ring around Earth – because of the comparatively large ratio of mass between Earth and its Moon.

    (5) The possibility of a ring system around Saturn was only revealed with the application of a crude telescope to look at planets – the victory of Galileo. Ring systems on the gas giants – Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune – were only recently discovered due to the dawn of the Space Age on 04 October 1957. We did not have a physically correct theory of the moon until the end of the 1980’s – after all the manned landings on that object’s surface. Generally all satellites either observe Earth from close in, or observe the Galaxy and Solar System looking well past the Moon into outer space.


    Piazzi only discovered Ceres because he was looking for it. Despite a flawed hypothesis know as the Titius-Bode Law, he was using the best instruments of his time to seek a ‘missing planet’.

    The first astronomer to suggest the existence of a trans-Neptunian population was Frederick C. Leonard. In 1930, soon after Pluto’s discovery, he pondered whether it was “likely that in Pluto there has come to light the first of a series of ultra-Neptunian bodies, the remaining members of which still await discovery but which are destined eventually to be detected”. In 1943, in the Journal of the British Astronomical Association, Kenneth Edgeworth hypothesized that, in the region beyond Neptune, the material within the primordial solar nebula was too widely spaced to condense into planets, and so rather condensed into a myriad of smaller bodies.

    The hypothesis of a Kuiper belt was proposed around 1951, and was an erroneous prediction when it was made. In an article for the journal Astrophysics, Gerard Kuiper speculated on a disc having formed early in the Solar System’s evolution; however, he did not believe that such a belt still existed. Kuiper was operating on the assumption (common in his time) that Pluto was the size of the Earth, and had scattered these bodies out toward the Oort cloud. If Kuiper’s original hypothesis was correct, there would be no Kuiper belt. Since the belt was discovered in 1992, the known Kuiper belt objects have increased to over a thousand, and more than 70,000 objects over 100 km in diameter are thought to exist.

    Around most of the planets in the solar system, there are rings. The gravitational effects of shepherding moons are thought to be critical for maintenance of rings. The inner rocky planets are anomalies; Venus has no moon, Mercury is too close to Old Sol to hold on to anything, and the two captured asteroids around Mars are too small and in retrograde motion, which should just about clear out any loose dust before they crash into the surface and throw up another temporary ring – unfortunately not in our lifetime.

    The bottom line is that we will never know about an Earth ring unless we look for it. Find it first and work out the physics of its creation, circulation, perturbations, and resupply. In science, the hypothesis that there is ‘nothing-to-look-for’ is generally not acceptable until after a serious search has been done.

  2. Sankey Blanton says:

    Meteor Showers and Tons of Space Dust

    (1) There are nearly a dozen “Meteor Shower” events each year. The QUADRANTID shower is on the night (Monday) of Jan 3rd-4th. When Earth passes through an old comet trail, we see particles of debris that fall into the atmosphere. There is absolutely no reason that other particles could not be simultaneously entrained in a ‘Ring Field’. Gravity works both possibilities simultaneously and shows no known partiality. According to various websites, ‘the USGS says at least 1,000 million grams, or roughly 1,000 tons of material enters the atmosphere every year and makes its way to Earth’s surface.’ This suggests a lot more material in orbit around Earth.

    (2) Meteor strikes on the moon blast debris from the surface into space. With the right trajectory and velocity, some particles could be injected into an Earth Ring field. “On Dec. 14, 2006, we observed at least five Geminid meteors hitting the Moon,” reports Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office in Huntsville, AL. Each impact caused an explosion ranging in power from 50 to 125 lbs of TNT and a flash of light as bright as a 7th-to-9th magnitude star. The explosions occurred while Earth and Moon were passing through a cloud of debris following near-Earth asteroid 3200 Phaethon. This happens every year in mid-December and gives rise to the annual Geminid meteor shower: Streaks of light fly across the sky as rocky chips of Phaethon hit Earth’s atmosphere.

    (3) Tektites (from Greek τεκτός tektos, molten) are natural glass rocks up to a few centimeters in size, which most scientists argue were formed by the impact of large meteorites on Earth’s surface. Tektites are typically black or olive-green, and their shape varies from rounded to irregular.
    Tektites are among the “driest” rocks, with an average water content of 0.005%. This is very unusual, as most if not all of the craters where tektites may have formed were underwater before impact. Also, partially melted zircons have been discovered inside a handful of tektites. This, along with the water content, suggests that the tektites were formed under phenomenal temperature and pressure not normally found on the surface of the Earth.
    NASA scientist John A. O’Keefe published numerous papers between the 1950s and 1990s discussing the lunar, rare-earth, isotopic and other chemistries, and how they relate to tektite glass. Thus, some tektite researchers continue to strongly disagree with the popular terrestrial-impact theory; they suggest tektites are more likely … ejecta from the Moon.

    (4) The whole Solar System can be compared with a gravitational dust bowl. Earth has a dust tail not because the planet itself is particularly dusty, but rather because the whole solar system is. Interplanetary space is littered with dusty fragments of comets and colliding asteroids. As Earth orbits through this dusty environment, a tail form akin to swaths of fallen leaves swirling up behind a street sweeper. “As Earth orbits the sun, it creates a sort of shell or depression that dust particles fall into, creating a thickening of dust – the tail – that Earth pulls along via gravity,” explains Werner. “In fact, the tail trails our planet all the way around the sun, forming a large dusty ring.”

    Comment: In science, the hypothesis that there is ‘nothing-to-look-for’ is generally not acceptable until after a serious search has been done.

    November 12, 2010: Did you know that the Earth has a dust tail? The Spitzer Space Telescope sailed right through it a few months ago, giving researchers a clear idea of what it looks like. Spitzer’s recent observations have helped astronomers map the structure of Earth’s dust tail and figure out what similar “tell-tale tails” attached to alien planets might look like.

    If Earth has a ‘dust tail’, there is an increased probability that it has an “O’Keefe Ring”.

  3. lucyohancock says:

    Sankey I agree with you, let’s first find out if there is a Ring and THEN worry about what it is made of. I think it is there, because when I work out the weather effects it would have and go look for them, there they are. An eroding ring in the equatorial plane would, as O’Keefe said in 1980, warm the winters and leave the summers alone. Well, that is a large share of exactly what global warming looks like: warming winters. As for the slightly warming summers, well, if there is also an eroding ring in the plane of the lunar orbit, it would warm the summers, but it would be a smaller and an inconsistent effect. Which in fact how the rest of global warming looks. A smaller, inconsistent warming of the summers, that does not raise maximum temperatures.

    So we have a Ring, though whether it is tektites as O’Keefe said, I don’t know. I was at AGU this year with a poster about the ring (which is uploaded here somewhere), and some people were getting all agitated about how this couldn’t be because such a ring is contrary to theories of lunar origin. Hey. If I were you I wouldn’t say that till after we are sure it isn’t there. Just a piece of outside advice.

    Let’s Look.

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