Saturn’s iconic rings are the biggest brightest rings in our solar system, extending over 280000 kilometres from the planet. That is wide enough to fit 6 Earths in a row. But Saturn won’t always look like this, recent studies on Saturn’s ring shows that its rings are disappearing. That’s right Saturn is losing its rings and in an accelerating rate.
Saturn is losing its rings very fast and much faster than scientist had first thought. Right now it’s raining 10000 kilograms of ring rain on Saturn per second. It is fast enough to fill an Olympic sized pool in half an hour.
The rain is actually the disintegrated remains of Saturn’s rings. Saturns ring are mostly made up of chunks of Ice and rock, which are under constant bombardment by UV radiation from the Sun and by other tiny meteoroids. Because of this bombardment of UV radiation and meteoroids, the icy particles vaporize forming charged water molecules.
That charged water molecules interact with Saturn’s magnetic field, Ultimately falling towards Saturn. Where they burn up in the atmosphere. We have known about the ring since, the 1980s when NASA’s Voyager mission first noticed mysterious dark bands that turn out to be the ring rain, caught in Saturn’s magnetic fields.
Back then researchers estimated the Rings would totally drain in 300 million years. But observations by NASA’s former Cassini spacecraft give a darker prognosis before its death dive into Saturn in 2017.
Cassini managed to get a better look at the amount of ring dust raining on Saturn’s equator. It discovered that it was raining heavier than previously thought. Scientists calculated the Rings had only a hundred million years left to live. It’s tough to imagine a ring with Saturn, but for much of its existence, the planet was as naked as Earth.
While Saturn first formed around 4.5 billion years ago study suggests the Rings are only a hundred to two hundred million years old, that’s younger than some dinosaurs. So when you think about it we are pretty lucky we happen to be around to see those magnificent rings.
Really lucky, in fact, because efforts the study those rings have led us to other discoveries. For example, as Cassini explored Saturn’s moon Enceladus and uncovered a trail of ice and gas leading back to Saturn’s E ring.
Enceladus is the widest most reflective moon in our solar system. The moon is constantly gushing out gas and dust. Some of it ends up in space and in Saturn’s E ring. While the rest drifts back onto the moon’s surface creating a blinding white field of snow. Who knows what other discoveries might be hiding within the Rings, At the very least it’s clear we better keep looking while we still can.