Saturn's Rings Are Raining Thousands Of Pounds Of Debris Down On The Planet In A Bizarre Phenomenon Called 'Ring Rain'

Friday, 05 October 2018 - 1:24PM
Space
Solar System
Friday, 05 October 2018 - 1:24PM
Saturn's Rings Are Raining Thousands Of Pounds Of Debris Down On The Planet In A Bizarre Phenomenon Called 'Ring Rain'
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NASA JPL/Caltech
While astronomers are still trying to pin down the existence of Planet Nine lurking somewhere beyond our solar system, scientists poring over data from the Cassini mission are still making new revelations about Saturn, which turns out to be a lot more interesting than most people imagine. According to Cassini Project Scientist Linda Spilker: "Almost everything going on in that region turned out to be a surprise. That was the importance of going there, to explore a place we'd never been before. And the expedition really paid off – the data is tremendously exciting."

Not only is there a weird magnetic feedback loop going on between the planet and one of its more habitable moon, Enceladus, it turns out that Saturn is experiencing a phenomenon called "ring rain," in which its rings shed huge amounts of material, which falls to the planet's surface... Or becomes electrically charged and follows the spiraling paths created by Saturn's magnetic field lines. It's estimated that 22,000 pounds of debris falls per second during ring rain, which includes gas and other particles.



In addition to this, the Cassini mission found that the organic particles within Saturn's ring rain are different from those found on Saturn's moons, which means the planet is host to several different types of organic compounds. Titan has already been noted for its potential to harbor alien life, as has Enceladus. Though organic compounds don't guarantee the emergence of life, learning more about the conditions that produce them could give insight into what sorts of exoplanets we should be looking at as possible hosts for life.

Like NASA's Opportunity rover, the Cassini spacecraft was an old bird—by the time it finally plunged into Saturn, it was 20 years old. Still, it looks like scientists will be sifting through its data for years to come. The new research has been published in Science, whose newest edition is a special issue dedicated to the sixth planet titled Closing with Saturn.
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