Saturn is eating away its icy rings

Adjust Comment Print

But, like everything in the Universe, they're not going to last forever - and now planetary scientists have discovered that they're disappearing at an incredibly fast rate.

Scientists aren't completely certain if Saturn was born with its attractive halo, or if it acquired its ring system later in life.

They found that this was due to water molecules in the icy rings becoming electrically charged, either by interaction with ultraviolet radiation from the Sun, or by meteoroid bombardment, and that the water was then being caught up in Saturn's magnetic field, and dragged down into the planet's atmosphere by gravity.

The rings of Saturn, a ring system orbiting about the Saturn, consist of countless small particles made nearly of water ice with a trace component of rocky material.

"We estimate that this "ring rain" drains an amount of water products that could fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool from Saturn's rings in half an hour", said planetary scientist James O'Donoghue of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Based on that current rate, and research carried out by the Cassini spacecraft, the rings have less than 100 million years to live. Some suggest it was formed around 4 billion years ago - at the same time as the planet and the rest of the solar system - but others suggest they surrounded the planet many years after the solar system's birth. The team looked at previous research about the planet's "ring rain" that tracked how much mass was being lost.

Scientists first documented ring rain back in 2013, but new research, led by James O'Donoghue from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, shows the effect is happening much quicker than expected, and by outcome, so is the rate at which Saturn's rings are decaying.

YouTuber rigs glitter and fart-spray bomb to catch porch pirates
He also set it up so he could upload the video to the cloud and track it down using Global Positioning System . When they open the stolen "package" it sprays them with a fog of fine glitter and five squirts of fart spray .

One day, Saturn may be known as the "ringless planet".

If O'Donoghue is right about the 100 million-year timeline, humanity should be grateful that we came along now, in time to see the rings before they're gone.

According to the findings of the new research, it is now considered to be more likely that it acquired the rings after it formed.

"We are lucky to be around to see Saturn's ring system, which appears to be in the middle of its lifetime", O'Donoghue added.

Stretching some 175,000 miles across, Saturn's bangles easily outshine the dark, fragmented rings feebly encircling Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune. At that rate of loss, the rings should be gone in about 292 million years. The influx of water from the rings, appearing at specific latitudes, washed away the stratospheric haze, making it appear dark in reflected light, producing the narrow dark bands captured in the Voyager images.

There are a number of theories which could explain the origin of the rings. This mosaic shows everything from the expansive rings to the hexagonal jet stream at the north pole. As the planet progresses in its 29.4-year orbit, the rings are exposed to the Sun to varying degrees.