Sci-tech

Saturn is losing its rings

Saturn is losing its rings

"Water ice, along with the newly discovered organic compounds, is falling out of the rings way faster than anyone thought - as much as 10,000 kilograms of material per second", he added. Sadly, it's beauty may be fleeting, according to new research. "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".

Saturn is losing its rings at a "worst-case-scenario" rate according to new research by NASA.

Scientists have long discussed the possible origin of the Saturn ring system, which may have formed from shattered pieces of small moons, comets or asteroids. If it's the former, the rings formed about 4.4 billion years ago, but if it's the latter, they only formed about 100 million years ago, likely the outcome of colliding moons in orbit around Saturn, according to research published in 2016.

Saturn's moon Enceladus drifts before the rings and the tiny moon Pandora in this view that NASA's Cassini spacecraft captured on November 1, 2009. The fact is that Saturn is rapidly heading towards another ring-free phase of its life, and that's pretty wild. "Maybe we're just in that interesting, lucky period where we get to see Saturn's rings to the level that we see them".

Even though it actually isn't the only planet in our solar system with rings - Neptune and Uranus are also wearing some icy jewellery - Saturn is the one that stands out from the crowd.

"This is relatively short, compared to Saturn's age of over four billion years", stated Mr O'Donoghue, who is the lead author of the study on Saturn's ring rain. Back in 1986, NASA scientists linked these narrow, dark bands to the shape of Saturn's substantial magnetic field.

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Observations show the rings are being pulled into Saturn by gravity as a dusty rain of ice and particles influenced by the planet's powerful magnetic field.

The rings are mostly composed of lumps of water ice that vary in size from microscopic grains to boulders of several yards across, the space agency said.

That theory was just a theory, but the new findings-based on ground-based observations by Keck Observatory telescopes on Hawaii's Mauna Kea Mountain-may confirm it. When this happens, the particles can feel the pull of Saturn's magnetic field, which curves inward toward the planet at Saturn's rings.

Of all the planets in our Solar System, you'd have to agree that Saturn is the most immediately recognizable.

In future studies, scientists aim to measure the effects of Saturn's seasons on ring loss rates. The researchers also made the surprising discovery of a glowing band at a higher latitude in the planets southern hemisphere. This view looks toward the night side on Pandora as well, which is lit by dim golden light reflected from Saturn. That orbit will expose the Sun to different portions of the rings and will, therefore, change the quantity of ring rain the planet experiences.

The research was funded by NASA and the NASA Postdoctoral Program at NASA Goddard, administered by the Universities Space Research Association.