Saturn’s rings are one of the most spectacular phenomena in our solar system. However, according to a new study, they may disappear over time. Alas, future observers may never see them again.
History of Saturn
Our solar system and its planets formed about 4.6 billion years ago, and scientists have long argued about the age and origin of Saturn’s rings. Some astronomers argue that the bright, icy rings must be younger than we think because they have not been eroded and darkened by interaction with meteorites for billions of years.
New data from NASA Cassini
A new analysis of data from NASA’s Cassini mission, which orbited the gas giant planet from 2004 to 2017, has provided new insights into how long the rings have been around and when they might disappear.
Cassini data led to a new discovery that supports the theory that rings appeared long after Saturn formed. According to the researchers, the seven rings were probably still forming when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.
Alas, despite their “youth,” Saturn’s rings may soon disappear. Most of it is made up of ice, and only a small percentage is made up of stony dust from asteroid and micrometeoroid debris falling in space. The grain-like debris collides with particles in Saturn’s rings and creates “floating debris” as the ring material orbits the planet.
Data from Cassini showed that the rings are losing several tons of mass per second, meaning that from an astronomical perspective, the rings don’t have much time left. Researchers estimate that the rings will last at most another few hundred million years.
Opinion of the expert
“Saturn’s rings are one of the most unique and beautiful phenomena in our solar system, and we should enjoy them while they exist,” said Dr. James O’Donoghue, an astronomer at Cornell University. “But unfortunately, everything has to come to an end, and Saturn’s rings are no exception. We should appreciate them while they are there and continue to study them to better understand the processes of our solar system.”