Saturn’s Rings Are Made From Shredded Moons, And They're Surprisingly Young

Friday, 15 December 2017 - 12:34PM
Friday, 15 December 2017 - 12:34PM
Saturn’s Rings Are Made From Shredded Moons, And They're Surprisingly Young
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Image credit: Pixabay
The rings of Saturn are even weirder than we ever imagined. After NASA's landmark Cassini mission, you might think we've already learned all there is to know about Saturn, but as we comb through all of Cassini's data, we're turning up more and more groundbreaking discoveries every day now.

The rings of Saturn, one of the best-known planetary features found around the solar system, are surprisingly young, reports Science News.

Among the Cassini probe's final findings was the likelihood that the Saturnian rings are probably only a few hundred millions years in age, and are also not as thick as originally believed.
We had never really nailed down what led to the creation of Saturn's rings: if the orbiting swirls around Saturn were formed at the same time as the gas giant, the influx of debris should have resulted in darker bands—yet the rings seemed too dense to be a latter development. 
Cassini discovered some shocking evidence about Saturn's rings that changes everything we thought we know about them.
During its last passes around Saturn, Cassini made its way between the world and its rings 22 times, which revealed to astronomers the difference in gravitational pull between what the planet puts forth and the combined strength of Saturn and its pretty, surrounding loops—revealing that the mass of the rings is light enough to be much more youthful than the planet.

Another perplexing find: The dust being continually drawn to the rings would have darkened them more severely had they been billions of years old. 
The findings are not completely conclusive, but planetary scientist Larry Esposito of the University of Colorado Boulder believes we can also accurately explain how the rings were created: he surmises that at some point a moon was ripped to bits approximately 200 million years ago, possibly creating the rings, which may actually end up re-coalescing into moons, and that the moon-ring-moon transofrmation could actually be a naturally occurring cycle, a theory supported by other researchers as well. 
With this, Esposito believes the rings are as ancient as the planet, only as part of a reforming loop, as he expressed early on in the Cassini mission. 
"The evidence is consistent with the picture that Saturn has had rings all through its history...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," said Esposito. 

Saturn’s Rings Are Made From Shredded Moons, And They're Surprisingly Young