NASA Explains Why Saturn’s Rings Are Fading

NASA Explains Why Saturn’s Rings Are Fading

Decades ago, when the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft flew past Saturn, giving us our first close-up look at this awesome planet, scientists used the data the probes sent back to discover that the wide rings surrounding it were raining down into the planet's upper atmosphere. A 1986 paper in the journal Geophysical Research Letters sought to explain this, theorizing that the ring particles were becoming entrained in Saturn's magnetic field, plunging toward the planet and creating what amounted to a "ring rain", which cleared away haze and created the signature lines.

Saturn could be losing its iconic rings as an Olympic swimming pool amount of water drains from them every half an hour.

Estimations of ring-material identified falling into Saturn's equator by the Cassini rocket propose that the rings really have under 100 million years to live.

Saturn's rings mostly consist of chunks and bits of ice ranging in size from large boulders to tiny, dust-like particles.

An artist's impression of how Saturn may look in the next 100m years. That specific form of hydrogen makes up "ring rain", a phenomenon scientists have been working to pin down for decades. At that rate of loss, the rings should be gone in about 292 million years.

An animation of Saturn's disappearing rings can be found online.

Meanwhile, Saturn's rings have become a hot topic among scientists, with some saying that these were formed at the same time with the planet while others suggest the gas giant just got them later.

A close-up of Saturn's rings taken by Cassini.

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Saturn's rings could disappear in less than a 100 million years, much quicker than what was previously thought, CNN reported Tuesday. They detected some odd changes in Saturn's ionosphere, density variations in the rings themselves, and three dark bands circling Saturn at mid-northern latitudes.

"This is moderately short, contrasted with Saturn's period of more than four billion years", expressed Mr O'Donoghue, who is the lead creator of the examination on Saturn's ring precipitation.

"Notwithstanding, if rings are temporary, maybe we simply missed out observing giant ring systems of Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune, which have just thin ringlets today!"

That's a snap of the fingers in cosmic time, particularly considering Saturn is more than 4 billion years old.

These include changes in Saturn's upper atmosphere, density variations in the rings and three narrow dark bands around the planet at northern mid-latitudes.

The next step for this research would be for the team to see how the ring rain changes with the seasons on Saturn.

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

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