New Study Reveals Saturn’s Rings Are Much Younger Than The Planet Itself
A new study from the University of Colorado at Boulder has found that Saturn’s rings are likely around 400 million years old, which is much younger than the planet of Saturn itself, which is thought to be around 4.5 billion years old.
The research was published this month in the journal Science Advances, where it states that Saturn’s rings are likely no more than 400 million years old, making the rings significantly younger than Saturn itself, which is around 4.5 billion years old.
The study itself was led by physicist Sascha Kempf from the University of Colorado at Boulder. “In a way, we’ve gotten closure on a question that started with James Clerk Maxwell,” said Kempf.
Kempf broke down that the conclusion of their research came after analyzing dust, and tiny grains of rock material which are constantly moving through the entirety of our Earth’s solar system. When there’s influxes of this tiny grain rock material’s presence, it can leave behind a thin layer of dust on the planets, including on the ice that makes up Saturn’s rings.
“Think about the rings like the carpet in your house. If you have a clean carpet laid out, you just have to wait. Dust will settle on your carpet. The same is true for the rings.”
Kempf and his team of researchers used an instrument known as the Cosmic Dust Analyzer on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft from the years of 2004 to 2017, analyzing the specks of dust around Saturn. Throughout that time, the team collected around 163 grains that originated from beyond the planet’s immediate proximity.
With this information, they were able to initially hypothesize that Saturn’s rings have only been gathering dust for a few hundred million years; much younger than the age of the planets in our solar system.
“We know approximately how old the rings are, but it doesn’t solve any of our other problems. We still don’t know how these rings formed in the first place.”
Scientists do know that Saturn has seven rings that are made up of chunks of ice that are mostly the size of the average boulder here on Earth. For most of the 20th century, it was assumed that the rings formed at the same time that Saturn did. However, as time went on researchers became skeptical about their origin, as the rings are much cleaner when compared to the actual planet of Saturn.
“It’s almost impossible to end up with something so clean,” Kempf said.
The other interesting aspect of Saturn’s rings and their development is that they also might be vanishing. NASA scientists have reported in the past that the ice chunks that make up the rings are slowly melting and raining down on the planet itself. They’ve reported that the rings could even fully disappear within the next 100 million years.
While we still know little about how these rings initially formed, and why they formed so much later than the planet itself, this new research gives an intriguing new insight into the history of Saturn, and our solar system overall.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.