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New data from NASA’s former Cassini spacecraft has revealed that Saturn is losing its rings and they are expected to be gone much sooner than expected.
However, new data suggests the famous Saturn rings will be gone 200 million years sooner than previously estimated by scientists... and here's why.
Currently, 10,000 kilograms of ring rain is hitting Saturn per second - fast enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool in just an extraordinary 30 minutes.
Business Insider says the rain is the disintegrated remains of Saturn’s rings, which according to researchers are mostly made up of chunks of ice and rock. The rings are under constant attack by UV radiation from the sun, and also by smaller meteoroids.
Tech Insider goes on to explain the scientific reasoning as to why Saturn’s famed rings are slowly becoming eroded, saying when collisions from the UV radiation and smaller meteoroids take place, the icy particles vaporise; forming charged water molecules that interact with Saturn’s magnetic field.
Further explanation says this ultimately falls towards Saturn, where they burn up in the atmosphere.
Information on Saturn’s ring demise has actually been known for quite some time as a NASA Voyager mission in the 1980s first noticed dark bands on the planet that seemed very mysterious at the time. It was later discovered that this was the ring rain in Saturn’s magnetic fields.
At this time, researchers estimated Saturn’s rings would be totally removed in 300 million years.
But recent observations by NASA’s former Cassini spacecraft do not give a hopeful reading after getting a good look at Saturn and the amount of ring dust raining on Saturn’s equator.
Ring rain was a lot heavier than previously expected and the clear observations concluded that Saturn’s rings had only 100 million years before they were completely obsolete.
Saturn was first formed around 4.5 billion years ago at the start of the solar system. However, studies suggest that the rings are around 100-200 million years old.
Around 4 million years ago, Saturn entered its current position in the outer solar system. It sits as the sixth planet from the sun.
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Words by: Callum Jones