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24th Oct 2021

Saturn is losing its rings, much faster than experts thought

Charlie Herbert

Saturn losing rings faster than previously thought

They’re set to disappear 200 million years sooner than previously thought.

The iconic rings of Saturn are disappearing at a quicker rate than scientists previously thought according to data from NASA’s former Cassini spacecraft.

They’re one of the most recognisable features of our solar system, extending over 280,000 km from Saturn and wide enough to fit six Earths in a row.

But one day they will disappear.

Yes, Saturn is losing its rings, and it turns out it’s happening quicker than experts realised.

Every second, 10,000 kg of rock and ice from the rings rains down on Saturn. This happens because the rings are constantly being hit by tiny meteoroids and UV radiation from the Sun.

This causes the ice particles in the rings to vaporize, forming charged water molecules that interact with Saturn’s magnetic field. They then fall toward the planet and burn up in the atmosphere.

This process has been known about since the 1980s thanks to NASA’s Voyager mission. But then, scientists estimated it would take 300 million years for the rings to disappear.

Now, it is thought this will happen much sooner, thanks to data gathered by the Cassini spacecraft.

Before it met its end by diving into Saturn, Cassini got a close look at the rings and it turns out that the ‘rain’ is heavier than previously thought.

The research from NASA reads: “The rings are being pulled into Saturn by gravity as a dusty rain of ice particles under the influence of Saturn’s magnetic field.

“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.”

Scientists now predict that the rings have got just 100 million years left.

Saturn’s rings have actually only been around for fraction of the planet’s existence. Despite being more than 4.5 billion years old, the rings are only thought to have come into existence 100 to 200 million years ago.

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