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Saturn's rings are disappearing much faster than anticipated

Saturn's rings are disappearing much faster than anticipated

Data revealed they're vanishing faster than previously thought

Saturn is the proud owner of the biggest and brightest rings in our solar system, but you might be surprised to discover that it’s losing them - and at a faster rate than previously believed.

Saturn’s rings are mostly made up of chunks of ice and rock, which are under constant bombardment from the Sun’s UV radiation and other teeny tiny meteoroids in the vicinity.

When these collisions happen, the ice particles making up the rings vaporize and form charged water molecules that interact with Saturn’s magnetic field before they fall down onto the planet as a sort of rain.

According to research collected by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft back in 2017, it’s happening fast.

The ‘ring rain’ is chucking it down at a whopping 10,000 kilograms per second.

I appreciate that is hard to visualize, so - as Insider points out - it’s the equivalent of two Olympic-sized swimming pools being filled up every hour.

NASA Voyager mission first discovered ‘ring rain’ and the concept of Saturn’s disappearing rings back in the 1980s.

Saturn is losing its rings faster than previously thought.
Zoonar GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

However, back then it was believed it would take around 300 million years for the rings to melt away altogether - but data collected by Cassini revealed it’s actually going a lot faster.

If you’re now sitting there thinking you can’t quite imagine how Saturn would look without its famous rings, then fear not - because although it is happening faster than scientists previously thought, it still isn’t happening fast.

In fact, experts reckon it will be about a 100 million years before the rings vanish completely, by which point I’d wager none of us will be alive and around to see it.

Saturn's rings.
GRANGER - Historical Picture Archive / Alamy Stock Photo

Last month, it was confirmed that Saturn was headed into its ‘spoke season’; a phenomenon which takes place around every 15 years and during which large smudges - dubbed ‘spokes’ by NASA - appear on Saturn’s rings.

Although first discovered back in the 1980s, NASA still isn’t entirely sure what causes them.

New images from the Hubble Telescope have shown that, once again, ‘spoke season’ is underway - and scientists are hopeful that the new shots will help them gain a deeper understanding of exactly what is going on.

NASA planetary scientist Amy Simon said: “Thanks to Hubble's OPAL program, which is building an archive of data on the outer solar system planets, we will have longer dedicated time to study Saturn's spokes this season than ever before.”

Featured Image Credit: Johan Swanepoel/Thibault Renard / Alamy Stock Photo

Topics: Space, NASA