Saturn’s iconic rings are disappearing

Saturn’s rings may soon be disappearing in astronomical terms, according to new research.

A new analysis of data captured by NASA’s Cassini mission, which orbited the planet between 2004 and 2017, has revealed new insights into when the seven rings formed and how long they last.

During Cassini’s grand finale, when the spacecraft completed its 22 orbits between Saturn and its rings, researchers noticed that the rings were losing many tons of mass per second, which means the rings will only be around a few hundred million more years at most.

“We’ve shown that massive rings like Saturn’s don’t last very long,” Paul Estrada, a research scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, and one of the study’s authors, said in a statement.

One could speculate that the relatively diminutive rings around the ice and other gas giants in our solar system are remnants of rings that were once as massive as Saturn. scattered rings of Uranus.

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Saturn’s rings consist mostly of ice but have a small amount of rocky dust from broken asteroid fragments and micrometeorites colliding with the rings.

The research also found that the rings appeared long after Saturn’s initial formation, and were still forming when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

“Our inescapable conclusion is that Saturn’s rings must be relatively young by astronomical standards, only a few hundred million years old,” Richard Doresen, professor emeritus of astronomy at Indiana University Bloomington and lead author of the studies, said in a statement.

“If you look at Saturn’s satellite system, there are other hints that something exciting happened there in the past hundreds of millions of years. If Saturn’s rings aren’t as old as the planet, that means something happened to create their amazing structure, and that’s very exciting to study.” “.

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