Science: Saturn’s rings are disappearing

A new study has revealed that Saturn’s iconic icy rings no longer exist for future skywatchers.

NASA’s Cassini space probe, which was launched in 1997 and orbited the gas giant planet from 2004 to 2017, has captured a lot of new data, making it possible to estimate the age of the rings, as well as how long they can last. Disappears.

Youth circles…

While our solar system and the planets that make it up were about 4.6 billion years old, data from Cassini led to a new discovery. According to the results of studies published May 12 and 15 in the journals Icarus and Science Advances, the theory of rings appearing long after the initial formation of Saturn has advanced.

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

According to the researchers, it is likely that the seven rings were still forming when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

Consisting of 95% ice particles, it reflects sunlight and appears white. But white is messy. The dust, made up of grains made up of rocks, minerals, or carbon-rich materials, gradually darkens the rings by settling on them.

By knowing the flow of dust around Saturn, and estimating the amount deposited on the rings, the researchers were able to give a range of the rings’ ages.

In 13 years, the cosmic dust analyzer has captured 163 dust grains from outside the Saturnian system. The rings were surprisingly “clean,” suggesting that they hadn’t been there long enough for excess cosmic dust to accumulate.

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Who will not live to be old

In fact, the rings are polluted by tiny meteorites that collide with ice particles, causing them to fall toward the planet. Cassini noted that the rings would thus lose several tons of matter every second. Researchers estimate that the rings will only last a few hundred million years at most.

Paul Estrada, a researcher at NASA Ames Research Center and co-author of the three studies concluded: “We have shown that massive rings like Saturn’s do not last long. It can be assumed that the relatively insignificant rings around other ice and gas giants in our solar system (Uranus and Neptune) are remnants. “The rings were as massive as the rings of Saturn. Perhaps in the not too distant future, in astronomical terms, the rings of Saturn will look more like the scattered rings of Uranus.”

Future missions to study some of Saturn’s moons could reveal more information about the events that created the rings, and lead to other discoveries.

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