Saturn’s rings are going bye bye.  Which scientists apparently knew.  But, I didn’t!  I didn’t know Saturn’s rings were disappearing!  Did you?!?  I didn’t. Well, they are and they’re going away at a “worst case scenario” rate according to new research. 

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Saturn’s rings stay in place thanks to two forces: Saturn’s gravity and the orbital velocity of all of the ice, dust and rock particles in the rings.  Some of that material gets “excited” by ultraviolet light as it rotates around the planet, and that makes it react to Saturn’s magnetic field.  When the magnetism effects the materials’ orbital velocity, Saturn’s gravity pulls those excited grains of material into itself, causing “ring rain” to fall into Saturn’s atmosphere… and reducing the rings.  

NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 missions both estimated the rate of ring disappearance when they studied Saturn on their way by.  Cassini got a much more intimate look at the rings.  And, according to the research published in the journal Icarus, based on that data, the rings are disappearing at the “worst case scenario” rate estimated by the Voyager missions.  

Essentially, the rings only have 100 million years to live.  “This is relatively short, compared to Saturn’s age of over 4 billion years,” said NASA’s James O’Donoghue in a statement.  So, though we won’t live to see them go, the universe will lose them in the blink of an eye.  

This research also supports the theory that all rings are temporary, and we may have just missed seeing the rings of planets like Jupiter and Uranus in their fullest glory. reported Monday.  


Jenny Flack
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