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Saturn's rings could have been in just 100 million years



Image: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Research Institute

With its extensive ring system, Saturn is among the most beautiful planets in the solar system. Unfortunately, the beauty can be volatile, according to new research. Saturn's rings dissolve faster than scientists are expected, according to the survey, and they could have gone for 100 million to 300 million years – a cosmological blink of the eye.

Saturn's rings consist primarily of water ice, but new research is published. In the journal, Icarus shows that the rings are attacked by the planet's gravity and magnetic field that trigger a phenomenon known as "rain rain". Researchers first documented rainfall back in 2013, but new research led by James O'Guard from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, shows that the effect is happening much faster than expected and therefore the speed at which Saturn's rings are due .

Scientists are not entirely sure if Saturn was born with his beautiful halo, or if it acquired his ring system later in life. If it is the first, the rings formed about 4.4 billion years ago, but if it is the latter, they formed only about 100 million years ago, probably the consequence of colliding the moon in circuits around Saturn, according to studies published in 2016. If the latest formation scenario is true, it means that Saturn had no rings, as giant sauropod dinosaurs roamed the ground under the law. But dinosaurs did not have telescopes, so that was not really anything. Fortunately, people have telescopes at a time when Saturn has its brilliant rings, so I suppose we're lucky for it.

The artist's impression of how Saturn can look in the next hundred million years. The inner rings disappear when they rain on the planet, very slowly followed by the outer rings.
GIF: NASA / Cassini / James Donoghue

"We are lucky to be around to see Saturn's ring system that appears to be in the middle of its life," said Donoghue in a statement . "But if the rings are temporary, maybe we've just missed seeing giant ring systems of Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune, who only have thin ringlets today."

Anyhoo when the Voyager probes visited Saturn several decades ago, they discovered the gas giant's electrically charged upper atmosphere or ionosphere along with density variations in its rings and three dark and narrow bands that encircle the northern latitudes of the planet. Back in 1986, NASA researchers linked these narrow, dark bands to the shape of Saturn's great magnetic field. These apparently unrelated observations led to the theory that the electrically charged particles from Saturn's rings flow down the magnetic field lines – a process that resulted in water being dumped from its rings to its ionosphere, creating the narrow bands seen in the Voyager images.

Saturn's rings look peacefully from the ground, but lumps of water, ranging from microscopic dust to giant stone blocks, are captured in a huge amount. The rings are in a delicate balancing bowl, stuck between Saturn's gravity traits and the orbital bugs pulling them outward in space. This balance is disturbed when the ice particles are charged by the sun's ultraviolet light, causing the particles to fall down against the planet along its magnetic field lines, with gravity, which gives an extra boost.

This process where the water interacts with the planet's ionosphere can actually be detected from Earth. For the new study, the O & # 39; Donoghue Keck Telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, used to detect and measure these chemical interactions with the liquid ionosphere. His team compared the light in the northern and southern latitudes of the planet to determine the amount of rain falling from the rings, including observations.

Unbelievably, researchers estimate that 4,400 pounds of water (10,000 pounds) lean out of Saturn's rings every second. At the level of loss, the rings must be gone for approx. 292 million years.

O & # 39; Donoghue says that this amount of cold rain could fill an Olympic sized swimming pool in just half an hour. However, other evidence collected by the Cassini probe suggests an even earlier expiry date. The Cassini spacecraft measured ring material falls into Saturn's equator at a rate that suggests "the rings have less than 100 million years of living," said Donoghue in the statement, adding: "This is relatively short compared to Saturn's age of over 4 billion years. "

This recent survey, I have to say, is really bumming me out. It's sad to think about Saturn without its rings, even though it's millions of years from now. Our solar system will be significantly less spectacular than it is today when it finally happens. But who knows maybe another planet will have its own ring system at that time.

[Icarus]


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