>> Sunday, August 2, 2009
Aron asked: Could, if we really wanted to, collect the hydrogen and helium and us it as fuel? Saturn could become a important fuel station in interstellar spaceflight. Because of the gravity, the fuel would be hard to get. Something I don't get, why are the rings in on a plane, why doesn't Saturn have a shell of debris?
In theory, we could eventually, use the gases on the gas giants for fuel, once we get travel out that far into the solar system reliable and economic. Using an oxygen/hydrogen combustion system, the trip to Saturn is unlikely to be worth what one could gather.
If, however, we manage to make a workable fusion engine, gathering hydrogen might make sense, but I'm not sure, with that gravity well (and Saturn's speedy spinning), taking it from the planet itself will be efficient. However, Saturn has ice (presumably) in the rings and moons that likely have methane and or other hydrogen materials. Converting methane to hydrogen would likely be easier than trying to extract actual hydrogen from the planet itself.
As for the rings (and several of the gas giants have them, though none are as impressive as the Saturn rings), no one's entirely certain how they came to be. Presumably, they are debris from broken up moons or objects that get sucked in by Saturn's gravitational pull, but I'm not sure anyone's sure. It does seem clear that some of the many moons of Saturn help keep the rings in place. They are 250,000 km in diameter but less than a kilometer in thickness. That's quite an unusual feature.