Scientists have long said Saturn’s rings are not permanent and may disappear in time. That “time” may have started as Saturn is losing its rings, scientists claim.
New research from NASA scientists found that Saturn’s iconic rings are disappearing, and it’s happening faster than expected. The scientists estimate that the rings will be gone in 300 million years, or sooner. The planet’s gravity slowly pulls the rings, which are the brightest and biggest rings in the solar system.
They're wide enough to fit six Earths in a row.
The scientists project that the rate of ring disappearance is fast enough to fill an Olympic-size pool in 30 minutes, according to a study published in the journal Icarus.
James O’Donoghue of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, lead author of the study, said:
“From this alone, the entire ring system will be gone in 300 million years, but add to this the Cassini-spacecraft measured ring-material detected falling into Saturn’s equator, and the rings have less than 100 million years to live. This is relatively short, compared to Saturn’s age of over 4 billion years.”
In the past, scientists wondered if Saturn had the rings when it was formed, or they appeared later in life. But, the new study shows that these rings were formed after the birth of the planet, which means they’re unlikely to be older than 100 million years.
Saturn's rings were formed long after the birth of the planet.
“We are lucky to be around to see Saturn’s ring system, which appears to be in the middle of its lifetime. However, if rings are temporary, perhaps we just missed out on seeing giant ring systems of Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune, which have only thin ringlets today.”
The rings are composed of many separate particles, ranging from pea-sized particles to giant ones.
These are made of chunks of water ice, which can be microscopic grains to huge boulders. However, there are also traces of rock materials in these rings. Though people today may not be able to witness the disappearance of Saturn’s rings, we’re lucky enough to know that the rings are still existing.
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