Saturn’s rings are surprisingly young and much younger than the gas giant planet itself, new research has revealed.
A team of researchers came up with a new estimate for the date of birth of the rings of saturn studying the accumulation of dust around the gas giant planet. Tiny grains of rock flow through the Solar system almost constantly, resulting in thin layers of the material accumulating on planets, moons, and asteroids and in icy ring systems like that of Saturn. To try to come up with a new estimate of the age of Saturn’s ring system, the researchers studied how quickly this layer of dust accumulates, similar to determining how long a surface in your house has been left untouched by running a finger. about her.
The findings mark a new era for the most impressive and famous ring system in the solar system, no more than 400 million years old. This is compared to Saturn itself, which was born with the other planets when a cloud of gas and dust around Sun it collapsed about 4.5 billion years ago.
Related: Saturn’s Rings: Composition, Characteristics and Creation
Carrying out this investigation was not an easy task. Kempf and the team had to analyze data collected between 2004 and 2017 with the Cosmic Dust Analyzer, a cube-shaped “scoop” instrument aboard the now-retired NASA. Casini spacecraft. During this 13-year period, before she collapsed Saturn’s atmosphereCassini collected 163 dust specks from the vicinity of Saturn.
“Think of rings as the rug in your house,” University of Boulder physicist Sascha Kempf said in a statement (opens in a new tab). “If you have clean carpet, you just have to wait. The dust will settle on your carpet. The same goes for rings.”
Using measurements of the accumulation of dust in Saturn’s rings, the researchers estimated that the structures accumulated less than one gram per square foot of this material each year.
This revealed to them that, compared to the planet, Saturn’s rings are a relatively new phenomenon and might actually disappear in a period equivalent to the blink of an eye, at least in cosmic terms. The rings are being pulled into the planet’s interior by the gas giant’s gravity, and astronomers aren’t exactly sure how much time they have left.
Read more: Saturn’s rings are disappearing. The James Webb Space Telescope can reveal how much time they have left.
Saturn’s rings are a ‘new’ feature
Saturn’s rings have fascinated scientists since their discovery in 1610 by astronomer Galileo Galilei. This interest intensified in the 19th century with the revelation that rings are not actually solid, but are made up of smaller individual particles.
Scientists now know that there are seven rings revolving around saturn extending to around 175,000 miles (282,000) from the gas giant’s surface. The rings are made up of different sized chunks of ice, most no bigger than a rock in Land.
What has been less clear is when the rings were born. One of the prevailing theories in the 20th century was that they formed when Saturn himself was born. This idea is problematic, Kempf added, because Saturn’s rings are “clean” of any rocky matter, being 98% water ice. “It’s almost impossible to end up with something that clean,” Kempf said.
However, the revelation of the age of Saturn’s rings does not fully explain its origins, and many questions remain to be answered.
“We know roughly how old the rings are, but it doesn’t solve any of our other problems. We still don’t know how these rings formed in the first place,” Kempf added. “If the rings are short-lived and dynamic, why are we seeing them now? It’s just too lucky.”
The team’s work is described in an article published in the magazine (opens in a new tab) Progress of science.