Science

Saturn is Losing its Rings

Saturn is Losing its Rings”

But, like everything in the Universe, they're not going to last forever - and now planetary scientists have discovered that they're disappearing at an incredibly fast rate. And as long ago as 1980 and 1981, when Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 reconnoitered Saturn, the evidence began suggesting that the answer was no.

Why is this happening? 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.

A study by scientists from the space agency found the planet had been losing mass from its rings at the maximum rate predicted-enough to fill an Olympic swimming pool in just half an hour.

Based on that current rate, and research carried out by the Cassini spacecraft, the rings have less than 100 million years to live.

"This is relatively short, compared to Saturn's age of over 4 billion years", said O'Donoghue. NASA says that the most iconic feature of Saturn, those magnificent rings, are disappearing.

Even though it actually isn't the only planet in our solar system with rings - Neptune and Uranus are also wearing some icy jewellery - Saturn is the one that stands out from the crowd. O'Donoghue continued from his above statement. Water ice particles in the rings range in size from microscopic to the size of boulders according to the video. Their orbital path is the product of an equilibrium between two forces, Saturn's gravity and their orbital velocity. It's like a "will they, won't they" relationship in a sitcom, very Sam and Diane.

Saturn is Losing its Rings at Worst Case Scenario Rate

An artist's impression of how Saturn may look in the next hundred million years.

This means the rings are disappearing at an "alarming speed" - and could be gone within 100 million years. That kind of scale is what makes space so fascinating. Solar radiation and clouds of plasma from space rock impacts continuously bombard the water ice and other particles that make up the rings. "That wasn't a complete surprise", said Connerney. The geysers, first observed by Cassini instruments in 2005, are thought to be coming from an ocean of liquid water beneath the frozen surface of the tiny moon.

Saturn's moon Enceladus drifts before the rings and the tiny moon Pandora in this view that NASA's Cassini spacecraft captured on November 1, 2009. This view looks toward the night side on Pandora as well, which is lit by dim golden light reflected from Saturn.

The spacecraft took a census of the particles it encountered that were falling toward the planet; the amount of ring rain Cassini caught is "completely consistent" with O'Donoghue's measurements, Spilker said.

At any given moment, the majority of the water ice grains that form Saturn's rings maintain a stable trajectory. The authors wish to recognize the significant cultural role and reverence that the summit of Mauna Kea has within the indigenous Hawaiian community; they are fortunate to have the opportunity to conduct observations from this mountain.



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