Saturn loses its rings faster than expected


The planet Saturn loses its majestic rings at a faster pace than expected. This is what the astronomers of James O & # 39; Donoghue of the US space agency NASA conclude 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.

At the latest 300 million years have gone

The two Voyager NASA probes had already found evidence during their overflight 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.

However, it could go much faster, because there is another leak: the European-American Saturn probe Cassini, which had arrived in 2004 on the ring planet, had also observed that the ring rain on the Saturn Equator was tapping . "If you add the material of the ring detected by the Cassini spacecraft to the equator of Saturn, the rings of Saturn will live for less than 100 million years," explained O & # 39; Donoghue. With respect to the planet's age of over 4000 million years, it would be a relatively short time.

The atmosphere of Saturn and the rings
(Image: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute)

The rings are probably still quite young

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 truly amazing 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. The researchers present their analyzes in the American journal Icarus.

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