Many people recognize the planet Saturn by the rings that surround it. However, NASA researchers have now discovered that the planet is increasingly losing its rings.
Washington DC – NASA researchers recently investigated which celestial bodies in the solar system are most likely to support life. In addition to Mars and Pluto, the scientists also listed two moons of Saturn. Enceladus and Titan have atmospheres that can support life. But Saturn will change a lot in the near future.
Saturn’s rings are disappearing faster than first thought
The second largest planet in our solar system is not only orbited by the two moons, but also by seven rings. This ring system was discovered by Galileo Galilei in 1610 and consists of billions of water-ice particles with a trace component of rock material. However, thanks to NASA’s Cassini probe, researchers have now discovered that the rings are gradually disappearing.
Saturn is losing its rings faster than researchers previously thought. It is currently raining 10,000 kilograms per second of the decayed remains of the rings on the planet. The particles of ice and rock are constantly under attack from UV radiation from the sun and other small meteorites. In a collision, the ice particles vaporize to form charged water molecules that interact with Saturn’s magnetic field. Eventually, the particles fall in the direction of the planet and burn up in the atmosphere.
In 1980, NASA first noticed the ring rain. At the time, researchers estimated that Saturn’s rings would be completely depleted in 300 million years. But the observations of the “Cassini” space probe are the basis for a gloomy prognosis: The images of the probe revealed that it was raining more than previously assumed. With this precise information, the scientists calculated a new period: In just 100 million years, the rings will have completely disappeared.
Saturn wasn’t always surrounded by the famous rings
Saturn formed about 4.5 billion years ago and has not always been surrounded by the famous ring system for much of its existence. A study suggests that the rings are at most 100 to 200 million years old – younger than some dinosaurs that lived on Earth.
The loss of the rings could be significant for science. Because the researchers’ efforts to study the rings also led them to other discoveries in our galaxy. Among other things, traces of ice and gas were discovered during the exploration of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, which can be traced back to Saturn’s so-called E ring, making it the whitest and most reflective moon in our solar system.