Scientists have discovered Saturn’s rings are far younger than once thought, having formed as little as ten million years ago. this is far, far later than the when Saturn itself 1st formed—around 4.2 billion years ago—and means the planet’s iconic feature probably only appeared after the dinosaurs went extinct around sixty five million years ago.
How Saturn ended up with rings is a mystery. they’re composed almost entirely of water-ice and a small amount of rocky material. Scientists think they formed less than a hundred million years ago when asteroids, comets and little moons got caught by the planet’s gravitational pull and repeatedly collided, eventually being smashed into small bits..
A recent study published in the journal Icarus suggested that Saturn’s rings are a short-lived feature and they will be completely gone in around three hundred million years. Researchers found that rings are losing mass at the maximum rate predicted, with the ice particles being dragged into the main body of the planet by gravity.
In a new study printed in Science, a team of researchers led by Luciano Iess, from Italy’s Sapienza University of Rome, have currently used data from NASA’s Cassini mission to produce new measurements of gravitational field of its rings around Saturn . They used knowledge from Cassini’s “Grand Finale,” where the spacecraft plunged through the planet’s rings before burning up in the atmosphere below.
Before the Cassini mission, it was impossible to distinguish the gravitational impact of the rings from the main body of the planet. This mean mass of the rings-which is linked to their age-could not be established.
The relationship between the mass and age of the rings is refined, Iess told Newsweek. He said there’s a flux of contaminant particles present around Saturn that’s sprayed onto the rings at a constant rate. By measuring the mass, they were able to estimate the total amount of deposited particles—and how long it took them to accumulate: ten to a hundred million years.
Researchers say the findings don’t provide any details about how the rings formed. A catastrophic event like a collision looks to me the most obvious explanation, but there may be issues with that too, Iess said. I Believe the origin of the rings has to be put in the broader context of the dynamics of the Saturnian system.
Thomas Stallard, from the U.K.’s University of Leicester, who wasn’t involved in the study, told Newsweek the results were “striking” as it “once again confirms a startling truth, that Saturn’s rings haven’t existed in the solar system since the planet formed, but are relatively young.”
He continued: Although we don’t yet apprehend why, something catastrophic happened, perhaps in the age of the dinosaurs, that resulted in Saturn having a ring system completely unlike Jupiter and the ice giants Uranus and Neptune. but these rings, that are thus iconic, are being eroded away. While, on human timescales, it looks that Saturn will always have its rings, across the lifespan of the solar system, these rings are set to quickly fade into obscurity.
James O’Donoghue from Nasa’s Goddard space Flight Center, said that the idea the rings formed around the time that the dinosaurs went extinct is a profound result to finish the Cassini Mission The more we learn about Saturn’s rings, the more fragile and transient they seem to be.
Steve Miller– from the University College London, U.K, said the findings reinforce the idea that we are living in lucky times by existing at the same time as the rings. The exciting beauty of Saturn’s rings is one among the delights of the night sky, he said. “We should enjoy it while it lasts.