Saturn’s Rings Are Old?

Forever, it’s been assumed that Saturn’s rings are transient phenomena, and probably very young. That is, they were probably caused by a one-time (or at least rare) event, and would presumably fade away. At least, they would unless we could spot some mechanism that was able to constantly renew the rings. And we should consider ourselves just plain lucky to be here at the right time to see them!

How young are these rings?

Astronomers had thought Saturn’s rings were cosmically young, likely born some 100 million years ago from leftovers of a meteoric collision with a moon, based on data by NASA’s Voyager spacecraft in the 1970s.

New results from the Cassini-Huygens mission indicates that they are much older than that.

New observations by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft indicate the rings of Saturn, once thought to have formed during the age of the dinosaurs, instead may have been created roughly 4.5 billion years ago, when the solar system was still under construction.

So are Saturn’s rings being constantly fed new material?

[R]ing features seen by instruments on Cassini — which arrived at Saturn in 2004 — indicate the rings were not formed by a single cataclysmic event. The ages of the different rings appear to vary significantly, and the ring material is continually being recycled, Esposito said.

“The evidence is consistent with the picture that Saturn has had rings all through its history,” said Esposito of the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. “We see extensive, rapid recycling of ring material, in which moons are continually shattered into ring particles, which then gather together and re-form moons.”

Gee – First they told me that the universe isn’t going to contract under it’s own gravity, and then they told me that the galaxies are all about 100 times larger than we thought. And now this.
I swear, everything they taught me about astronomy in college was wrong! Next they’ll be tell me that Pluto isn’t a planet.

Oh… wait…

Explore posts in the same categories: Astronomy, Space

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