Yes, you read the title right. The jewel of our solar system is losing its rings. The glowing rings that surround the planet are disappearing way sooner than what scientists estimated a few years ago.
The past estimation of the erosion of the rings was made in 2011 by Dr. James O’Donoghue. His team came to the conclusion that the rings will be gone in about 300 million years. However, a death plunge into Saturn by the satellite Cassini a year ago showed how the ring rain has gotten even faster. The satellite was pelted by ice particles that make up the ring. Taking into account the data gathered from the death plunge and the data of their own research, Dr. O’Donoghue came to the conclusion that the Saturn rings only have about 10 to 100 million years left.
That’s a huge difference considering that these studies have been done less than 10 years apart. You may be wondering that 100 million years is still a long time. However, considering the age of Saturn which is 4 billion years, this is just a cosmic instant.
Why are the rings so important?
Saturn is quite old, as I have mentioned above, but it was as naked as the earth was a few million years ago. It got its glowing belt which extends about 280,000 km from the planet only 100-200 million years ago.
For us, the rings have always been around, but in the future, they might be gone again. We would have to say goodbye to the jewel of our solar system as it will turn into just another planet, so enjoy it while it’s here.
What is actually happening?
We’ve known about the ring rain since the 1980s. NASA’s researcher Dr. Jack Connerney did a study in 1986 which caught dark bands in Saturn’s magnetic field. These dark bands make up the ring rain.
This rain is basically the remains of Saturn’s rings. Its ring is made up of ice and rock particles, which levitate around the planet because of the magnetic field of the gravity pulling these particles in and the sheer size of the particles pushing them out.
What happens is that these particles in the rings are in constant collision with one another and with other passing meteorites. This results in them breaking down into small particles and the icy particles vaporize, forming charged water, which the magnetic pull of the Saturn pulls down to the planet. These particles don’t gather on the surface of the planet as the water vaporizes even before making it halfway down.
These rings won’t be around forever, but there is much research still needed to be done. Whatever that research is, we better do it while we