The discovery of the inner or crape ring of Saturn, made simultaneously in 1850 by William C. Bond, at the Harvard observatory, in America, and the Rev. W. R. Dawes in England, was another interesting optical achievement; but our most important advances in knowledge of Saturn's unique system are due to the mathematician. Laplace, like his predecessors, supposed these rings to be solid, and explained their stability as due to certain irregularities of contour which Herschel bad pointed out. But about 1851 Professor Peirce, of Harvard, showed the untenability of this conclusion, proving that were the rings such as Laplace thought them they must fall of their own weight. Then Professor J. Clerk-Maxwell, of Cambridge, took the matter in hand, and his analysis reduced the puzzling rings to a cloud of meteoric particles--a "shower of brickbats"--each fragment of which circulates exactly as if it were an independent planet, though of course perturbed and jostled more or less by its fellows. Mutual perturbations, and the disturbing pulls of Saturn's orthodox satellites, as investigated by Maxwell, explain nearly all the phenomena of the rings in a manner highly satisfactory.
After elaborate mathematical calculations covering many pages of his paper entitled "On the Stability of Saturn's Rings," he summarizes his deductions as follows:
"Let us now gather together the conclusions we have been able to draw from the mathematical theory of various kinds of conceivable rings.
"We found that the stability of the motion of a solid ring depended on so delicate an adjustment, and at the same time so unsymmetrical a distribution of mass, that even if the exact conditions were fulfilled, it could scarcely last long, and, if it did, the immense preponderance of one side of the ring would be easily observed, contrary to experience. These considerations, with others derived from the mechanical structure of so vast a body, compel us to abandon any theory of solid rings.
"We next examined the motion of a ring of equal satellites, and found that if the mass of the planet is sufficient, any disturbances produced in the arrangement of the ring will be propagated around it in the form of waves, and will not introduce dangerous confusion. If the satellites are unequal, the propagations of the waves will no longer be regular, but disturbances of the ring will in this, as in the former case, produce only waves, and not growing confusion. Supposing the ring to consist, not of a single row of large satellites, but a cloud of evenly distributed unconnected particles, we found that such a cloud must have a very small density in order to be permanent, and that this is inconsistent with its outer and inner parts moving with the same angular velocity. Supposing the ring to be fluid and continuous, we found that it will be necessarily broken up into small portions.
"We conclude, therefore, that the rings must consist of disconnected particles; these must be either solid or liquid, but they must be independent. The entire system of rings must, therefore, consist either of a series of many concentric rings each moving with its own velocity and having its own system of waves, or else of a confused multitude of revolving particles not arranged in rings and continually coming into collision with one another.
"Taking the first case, we found that in an indefinite number of possible cases the mutual perturbations of two rings, stable in themselves, might mount up in time to a destructive magnitude, and that such cases must continually occur in an extensive system like that of Saturn, the only retarding cause being the irregularity of the rings.
"The result of long-continued disturbance was found to be the spreading-out of the rings in breadth, the outer rings pressing outward, while the inner rings press inward.