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Saturn’s iconic rings are fading: we explain why

Saturn’s iconic rings are fading: we explain why

Saturn’s rings are not as old as thought It will not continue as expected. These are some of the conclusions of three studies published last May, which were made based on data collected by NASA’s Cassini space probe, which orbited the planet between 2004 and 2017.

Before hitting the surface of gaseous Saturn, Cassini completed 22 orbits passing between Saturn and its rings. This allowed them to study it more closely and collect amazing data.

Saturn’s rings will disappear in a few hundred million years

Saturn’s rings are made up largely of ice and a small percentage of rocky cosmic dust picked up in space left by asteroids and meteorites that slam into the rings, creating floating debris as they orbit the planet.

Thanks to Cassini Traverse, The researchers were able to observe that the rings lose several tons of mass per second Which means, according to one study, that it will only last a few hundred million years, which is a relatively short time given that Saturn is believed to have already existed for more than 4,000 million years before its appearance.

We’ve shown that massive rings like Saturn’s don’t last very long.Paul Estrada, a research scientist at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, and co-author of the studies, said in a statement to the agency.

“It can be speculated that the relatively insignificant rings around other ice and gas giant planets in our solar system are remnants of rings It was once as massive as Saturn. Perhaps at some point in the not-too-distant future, astronomically speaking, after Saturn’s rings shrink, they will become more like the scattered rings of Uranus.”

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An article published by NASA cites one study explaining that the meteorite’s impact with ring particles and the way the resulting debris is ejected away from its orbit combine to create a kind of moving conveyor belt that transports ring material towards Saturn and Which will lead to its demise.

Saturn’s rings are relatively young

One study concluded that The rings appeared long after the initial formation of Saturn It is believed that they were likely still forming when the dinosaurs ruled the Earth.

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

“If you look at Saturn’s satellite system, there are other indications 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 form its amazing structure, which is very interesting to studyDurisen added.

Other characteristics of the rings that lead to the conclusion of their relatively modern appearance are that they are surprisingly “clean”, Which indicates that they should not have been around long enough for excess cosmic dust to accumulate.

The idea that Saturn’s iconic rings could be a modern feature of our solar system has been controversial, however Our new results complement a trio of Cassini measurements that make this discovery difficult to rule outJeff Causey, principal investigator at NASA Ames Research Center and co-author of one of the studies, said in a statement.

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

Durisen hopes that if they can “discover what happened hundreds of millions of years ago to form the rings, we may end up learning why Saturn’s moon Enceladus shoots plumes of water, ice, and even organic matter from the ocean depths.” Durisen said. say.

We may end up finding the building blocks for life itself on Enceladus.“.

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