Fri, May 26, 2023, 02:31
The majesty of the solar system has fascinated humanity for centuries, and one of the most fascinating phenomena that adorns our cosmic surroundings is the presence of Saturn’s iconic rings. For years, experts debated his age. They were originally thought to have arisen around the same time as the planet, about 4,500 million years ago, but a study published in the journal ‘Science’ in 2019 reduced that number to a hundred million, astronomically low.
A new analysis of data captured by NASA’s Cassini mission, which orbited the planet between 2004 and 2017, led to a new discovery, published May 15 in the journal Academics. Other studies, published May 12 in Science Advances, reached similar conclusions.
“Our inescapable conclusion is that Saturn’s rings must be relatively young by astronomical standards, a few hundred million years old,” Richard Durrison, a professor of astronomy at Indiana University Bloomington, said in a statement.
“Looking at Saturn’s satellite system, there are other signs that something amazing happened in the last hundreds of millions of years. If Saturn’s rings aren’t as old as the planet, that means something happened to create its incredible structure, and that’s really exciting to study.”
Rings of Saturn
Although they appear solid to the naked eye, Saturn’s rings are composed primarily of icy particles, with only a small percentage of the rocky dust created in space by the broken pieces of asteroids and micrometroids.
In the exciting final phase of the Cassini mission, as the spacecraft completed 22 orbits between Saturn and its majestic rings, scientists were able to gather valuable data about the presence of asteroids, the mass of the rings, and the presence of asteroids that could contaminate the rings. Material from the rings rushes toward the planet. All of these data point to the same revealing conclusion: Saturn’s rings are significantly younger than previously thought.
Scientists have been able to accurately determine the amount of cosmic dust accumulated in Saturn’s icy rings. Over a 13-year period, the Cosmic Dust Analyzer collected a total of 163 dust particles from space aboard the Cassini spacecraft as it orbited the mighty gas giant. To the researchers’ surprise, the rings appeared ‘clean’, indicating that they had not had enough time to accumulate large amounts of cosmic dust.
Meanwhile, as meteorites penetrate the rings, they exert force that propels material in the inner rings toward Saturn at considerable speed. The Cassini mission observed that the rings lose a significant amount of mass per second, suggesting that, in astronomical terms, their existence is short-lived. Researchers estimate that Saturn’s rings last only a few hundred million years at most.
“We’ve demonstrated that massive rings like Saturn’s don’t last very long,” said Paul Estrada, a research scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. Thus, as the mysteries of the Solar System continue to be unraveled, Saturn’s rings are a reminder that even the most unique and dazzling features of the universe evolve and fade over time.
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