Circling the Rings: A Conjecture about Solar Rings

Abstract of poster presentation by Henry Zemel

New York. e-mail: henryz[at]
Presented at the SIS Conference: Natural Catastrophes during Bronze Age Civilisations (11th-13th July 1997)

The eccentricity and inclination of planets, moons, asteroids, and comets are linked in a peculiar way: the bodies in the ecliptic, and the moons in the equatorial plane have nearly circular orbits, while those off the ecliptic or equator are mostly elliptical. Among the planets, all orbits are nearly circular and in the ecliptic, except for Mercury and Pluto whose orbits are elliptical and considerably inclined to the ecliptic. Of the 32 major moons of planets, 20 orbit in the equatorial plane (inclination < 4 degrees), and nearly all of these orbits, 19 of 20, are circular (eccentricity < 0.1.) By contrast, 9 of the 12 inclined moons have elliptical orbits. Asteroid orbits are primarily elliptical and off the ecliptic. A graph of "number of asteroids" versus "inclination" peaks at 4 degrees inclination, and then drops rapidly as inclination approaches zero. This is the distribution one would expect if the ecliptic had been swept clear of asteroids. These patterns among the satellites of the sun are consistent with a system of shrinking solar rings in the ecliptic, and concurrently, an extensive - and shrinking - ring system around the major planets. If elaborate ring systems existed and degenerated in historic times - a highly speculative supposition -- they would form part of the panorama described in ancient records.