Friday 21 December 2018
The most characteristic feature of Saturn is its captivating ring system. Soon they could have disappeared – designed on a cosmic scale. The ice particles in the rings are sucked into large quantities by the gravity of the planet.
The planet Saturn loses its majestic rings at a faster pace than expected. Astronomers approach James O & # 39; Donoghue of the US space agency NASA from an analysis of the atmosphere of Saturn. The ice particles of the rings are then drawn in a relatively large amount of the gravity of the gas giant. In 100 million years, the rings could have disappeared, said O'Donoghue in a statement from Leicester University. The researchers present their analysis in the American journal "Icarus".
The two "Voyager" NASA probes had already found evidence during their flight in the early 1980s that the ice particles of Saturn's rings rained on the planet, forming dark bands in the gas giant's atmosphere. "We estimate that this" Ring Rain "deprives the Saturn rings of the equivalent of an Olympic pool in half an hour," said O & # 39; Donoghue. At this rate, the ring system will have completely disappeared at the latest 300 million years.
Relatively short time
However, it could go a lot faster, because there is another leak: the European-American "Cassini" Saturn probe, which had arrived in 2004 on the ring planet, had also noted that the ring rain also beats on the Saturn equator. "If you add the material of the ring detected by the Cassini space probe to Saturn's equator, the rings of Saturn will have less than 100 million years of life," said O'Donoghue. Compared to the planet's age of over 4000 million years, it has been a relatively short time.
Because they disappear so quickly, the researchers assume that the rings – in cosmic scales – do not exist for very long. "The age of the rings has some truly surprising consequences," added co-author Tom Stallard of Leicester University. "It is possible that at the time of the dinosaurs the rings of Saturn were even bigger and brighter than we see them today, something dramatic must have happened to Saturn, long after the planet itself was formed". Researchers now want to continue to observe the phenomenon and, among other things, investigate how the rings change with the seasons on Saturn.