A new research by NASA confirms that Saturn is losing its iconic rings at the maximum rate estimated from Voyager 1 & 2 observations made decades ago. The particles slide along magnetic field lines into the planet's atmosphere, where they vaporize, generating glowing, charged hydrogen and droplets of water.
Furthermore, NASA's James O'Donoghue, who also is an author of the study published in the journal Icarus, said that the ring rain can dump an amount of water that can fill an Olympic-sized pool in just 30 minutes. Combining this analysis with data collected by the departed Cassini spacecraft, which dove through the rings before plunging into Saturn last year, O'Donoghue predicts that the rings have less than 100 million years to live.
The rings are mostly composed of lumps of water ice that range in size from microscopic grains to boulders of several yards across, the space agency said. He also noted that we could not catch the times when Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune was a large system of rings, which to date are likely to be considerably depleted.
NASA says Saturn’s rings are disappearing right before our eyes
Saturn is about 900 million miles from the sun, which is almost 10 times as far as our own distance from the star.
NASA has put together a nice video of the interaction of the rings with the planet to give more detail.
The rings of Saturn, one of the most lovely things in the Solar System, are of no exception. However, NASA now says Saturn's rings are fading, which means they eventually vanish completely.
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Yet, on the off chance that the rings truly do just have 100 million years left as the research proposes, it might be the situation the planet wasn't born with them, as it's unlikely something so delicate would have endured the previous multiple billion years.
The culprit: "ring rain", a phenomenon in which particles and gases fall into the planet's atmosphere. Considering that the Saturn will leave for 4 billion years, the duration of 300 million years is very short.
Research has already shown that Saturn's rings are fairly young. Tiny particles can get electrically charged by ultraviolet light from the Sun or by plasma clouds emanating from micrometeoroid bombardment of the rings.
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Saturn's rings are being dragged into its main body by gravitational pull from the planet.
The influx of water from the rings washed away the stratospheric haze, making it appear dark and producing the narrow dark bands captured in the Voyager images. The NASA group is interested in how Saturn's 29.4-year orbit across the sun and its shifting seasons affect the amount of ring rain. In this case, they could be formed due to the collision of a small icy satellites orbiting the planet.
If this continues happening, the Saturn will lose its ring in next 100 million years. But what will happen if the planet's ring system is set to disappear, say, in less than 300 million years?
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