Dinosaur Age Collision May Have Formed Saturn’s Rings

Dinosaur Age Collision May Have Formed Saturn’s Rings

And studies like these could reveal more about how Saturn and its rings formed and how disks in space behave more generally. Their age was determined by studying doppler-shifted radio signals from the doomed Cassini spacecraft.

This adds to previous science results from Cassini's "death dive" that are unlocking the mysteries of Saturn.

The Cassini scientists thought it would be possible to do the same for Saturn; the Weizmann scientists were called in to apply their methodology to the Saturn measurements.

What they found is that it's only about 40 percent of the mass of Saturn's moon Mimas, which is way smaller than Earth's moon.

NASA recently confirmed that the gas giant is losing its iconic brims due to "ring rain", a phenomenon in which particles and gases fall into the planet's atmosphere.

In fact, they might have formed around the same time dinosaurs were walking the Earth, with scientists estimating that the rings formed less than 100 million years ago, and maybe as little as 10 million years ago.

Data gathered by the Cassini mission before it plunged into Saturn's atmosphere shed light on the age of the gas giant's rings.

Scientists can also typically use the tilt of a planet's magnetic field to measure its day length. After accounting for the unexpected effect of strong winds deep in Saturn's atmosphere, scientists were able to calculate the mass of the rings and infer their age.

The dives allowed the orbiter to act as a probe, falling into Saturn's gravity field, where it could feel the tug of the planet and the rings.

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"We predict that there is a massive jet near the equator that rotates 4% faster than the rest of the planet", says team member Burkhard Militzer, of the University of California, Berkeley. These elements are believed to total 15-18 times the mass of Earth, which is about 15% of the mass of Saturn. The two forces pull the spacecraft in opposite directions.

Saturn's moon is the second largest in the entire solar system and is home to surface liquid and dust storms, which leaves some scientists to theorize that it could be home to alien life.

Such discoveries have strengthened the position of the supporters of the theory of "young rings" and forced planetary scientists to think about when they appeared. "This is to say that to my very great amazement Saturn was seen to me to be not a single star, but three together, which nearly touch each other".

In addition to revealing the age of Saturn's rings, the gravity measurements taken during Cassini's close passes allowed the team to uncover more information about the planet's gaseous interior structure.

That is quite recent in the 4.5-billion-year history of the Solar System: The planet in the night sky at the time of the first dinosaurs was, apparently, without the rings we know today.

Researchers say the findings do not provide any details about how the rings formed.

There may not be a more precise answer about the origin and age of Saturn's rings "until we can get samples of ring material in our labs to examine, and possibly date via radioactive decay", said Cornell University astronomy professor and study co-author Phil Nicholson.

So, Mankovich and his colleagues studied those observable waves and used them to backtrack inward to the planet itself.

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