I'm mulling over an idea for a social science fiction story, and I'm in need of a bit of help. The story grew from my wondering how a culture would react to the disappearance of planetary rings. I'm not an astronomer (or a scientist, for that matter), so I know next to nothing about planetary rings. (My knowledge consists of the fact that they're made up of debris. And they're pretty in all these digitally-enhanced photographs I see.)
First, and most importantly, I'd like to know what the rings would like from the planet. I'm considering both a planet itself (like Saturn) and a shepherd moon (like Prometheus) as the setting, so what the rings would look like from various distances would be appreciated. Obviously, there's the whole Monet effect, that things from farther away will look more blurred together. But that's not what I mean. For a single village or city, would the ring system be visible at all times of the day and night? Would it fluctuate by season, by time of day, by year? I realize this has to do a lot with type of orbits, angles, whether we're talking shepherd moon or planet... but that's why I'm asking you! Throw out various scenarios, if you can. :-)
Second, in the event of a sudden, almost instantaneous disintegration of these rings, what would happen to the particles? Would they fly off into space or would they crash into the planet/moon? I don't want this to be some sort of apocalyptic scenario where the planet gets thrown into the next mass extinction... I basically just want these people to wake up one day and be like "WTFmate?!?" What would I need to make that happen?
I've already been through Google. I've searched such unexpected phrases as planetary rings, planetary ring disintegration, what would rings look like from the planet?, but I mostly get relatively banal websites for children or a lot of mathematical formulae talking about Roche limits and tidal forces. It seems like most of the sites I've found care more about the interstellar aspects of rings than about the visual, social, and cultural repercussions... which makes sense, since for us, rings will always only be interstellar and not cultural. (This is one of my biggest regrets.) I've also tried searching shepherd moons, but all I get from that is a bunch of Enya links. And I already have that Enya album, so I'm getting no new information whatsoever.
Any help would be wonderful. I don't have very many resources at my disposal, so I can't get a hold of any obscure books (there's one on amazon.com for $140!) but I think they'd be too scientific, anyway. I'm not a dolt, but I'm not Einstein, either. And the culture on my planet isn't going to be that scientific either, so I won't need to get into too many specifics in the story itself.
Thanks for reading, and thanks again in advance for any help!