May 6, FoxNews

Jupiter has a thin set of nearly imperceptible rings with features that have long puzzled scientists.

A new study reveals how light and shadow are at work there, solving several mysteries at once.

Nowhere near as visible as the rings of Saturn, which are icy and bright and contain many chunks as big as houses, Jupiter's rings are made mostly of dark dust. They were discovered in 1979 by Voyager 1.

Not until the Galileo spacecraft, orbiting Jupiter from 1995 to 2003, did scientists figure out the rings were made of dust kicked up by meteoroids slamming into Jupiter's inner moons.

Yet oddities remained that didn't match theoretical predictions: The rings protrude beyond the orbit of the moon Thebe, and part of the ring system is tilted compared to the main ring plane.

Alternating light and shadow cause these anomalies, the new research finds.

"As they orbit about the planet, dust grains in the rings alternately discharge and charge when they pass through the planet's shadow," explained astronomer Douglas Hamilton of the University of Maryland. "These systematic variations in dust particle electric charges interact with the planet's powerful magnetic field.

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image: Jupiter's rings consist of bands of widely scattered dust particles generated by the impact of space debris into the planet's small inner moons (By NASA)