Saturn Could Lose Its Rings Sooner Than Astronomers Considered Until Now


Saturn’s dusty and icy rings are the iconic feature of the second-largest planet of our Solar System. However, they pour so much water onto Saturn that in just 300 million years they would vanish.

“What we’re seeing is something on the order of about a ton and a half per second,” said James O’Donoghue from the NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in Maryland. “The rings of Saturn haven’t been around forever. And they’re going to disappear someday,” he added.

Even though it would be hard to imagine our Solar System without Saturn’s rings, they are going to disappear eventually. However, Saturn formed without its iconic rings which, according to some studies, have formed 100 million years ago, in the time of dinosaurs.

“Saturn’s rings appear to be young. Maybe we’re just in that interesting, lucky period where we get to see Saturn’s rings to the level that we see them,” said Linda Spilker of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, California.

Saturn Could Lose Its Rings Sooner Than Astronomers Believed Until Now

Saturn’s rings are encircling the planet and sums up around 170,000 miles across. However, Saturn, the second-largest planet of our Solar System, is not the only one who has rings, but it’s the only one with visible, shiny rings. Jupiter, Neptune, and Uranus are also possessing dusty and icy rings, but they are darker in comparison to Saturn’s ones.

Scientists measured the amount of H3+ in Saturn’s upper atmosphere and identified that 4,400 pounds of water are pouring onto Saturn each second. Accordingly, the rings would vanish in about 300 million years if they keep on raining onto the planet at the same rate.

“It’s not out of the question, I would say, that the rings might degrade on this kind of timescale. It doesn’t mean that if you come back, there would just be nothing there,” explained Jeff Cuzzi of NASA’s Ames Research Center.

“I don’t think it’s unreasonable, with all these numbers being so high, that we have to seriously consider that the rings won’t be around forever,” he added.


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