What Is the Roche Limit?


Quick Answer

The Roche limit refers to the distance within which the gravitational tides of a primary celestial body begin to cause the disintegration of an orbiting satellite. In order for this principal to apply, the satellite must be held together by its own gravity.

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Full Answer

Within the Roche limit, debris are likely to form rings, while debris outside the limit usually coalesce. Theoretically, the limit is about 2 1/2 times the radius of the more massive primary body. This assumption requires that the two bodies have similar compositions and densities. Saturn's rings are a notable exception, as they lie outside their Roche limit. This phenomenon suggests that the rings are remnants of a moon that passed within its Roche limit.

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