NASA Research Confirms That Saturn Is Losing Its Rings at an 'Extremely Fast' Pace

Tuesday, 18 December 2018 - 10:57AM
Astronomy
Space
Tuesday, 18 December 2018 - 10:57AM
NASA Research Confirms That Saturn Is Losing Its Rings at an 'Extremely Fast' Pace
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We wouldn't say we take Saturn's rings for granted, but the idea of them someday not being there has never really crossed our minds, at least until now. According to NASA researchers, the iconic water ice rings are being pulled into the planet by gravity and in a relatively short amount of time, the innermost rings will be completely gone.

When we say a short amount of time, we are of course speaking in the cosmic sense, not relative to our own insignificant human lifespan. "We estimate that this 'ring rain' drains an amount of water products that could fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool from Saturn's rings in half an hour," said James O'Donoghue of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. According to Phys.org, ground-based observations made using the Keck Telescope in Hawaii confirmed the ring rain phenomenon estimated back in the 1980s during the Voyager 1 & 2 missions. Based on the recent research, NASA has shared an estimated timeline of how long it will take for gravity to pull the planetary features away completely. "From this alone, the entire ring system will be gone in 300 million years, but add to this the Cassini-spacecraft measured ring-material detected falling into Saturn's equator, and the rings have less than 100 million years to live," O'Donoghue said. "This is relatively short, compared to Saturn's age of over 4 billion years."

But don't shed a tear for Saturn just yet. This research may support an existing theory that could make us lucky observers who came along at just the right time. If planetary rings like the ones around Saturn were not formed when the planet itself was formed but instead appeared later, then it's cool that we are here to see them now and not after they have been sucked away. But there is another side to that coin. "If rings are temporary," said O'Donoghue, "perhaps we just missed out on seeing giant ring systems of Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune, which have only thin ringlets today!"

We obviously won't be around when Saturn's rings are gone completely, so we'll wave goodbye to the sky now. Thanks for the memories.

Science
NASA
Astronomy
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