NASA warns Saturn may be losing its rings

James Marshall
December 21, 2018

That's a blink of an eye on the cosmic time scale, as the solar system has been around for billions of years and is expected to be around for billions more.

Using observations from W. M. Keck Observatory and shots made by Voyager and Cassini, scientists have come to the conclusion that the space debris, of which the rings consist, is slowly being dragged into the planet's atmosphere, where it evaporates without a trace. The rings are already halfway to their death.

It's always been debated whether Saturn was born with the rings or whether they appeared over time, but the new study suggests that they are younger than the planet.

"We are lucky to be around" right now, the study's lead author, James O'Donoghue, said in a statement. But others theorize that the rings formed when objects like comets, asteroids or even moons broke apart in orbit around the massive planet.

Saturn is losing its most famous accessories. "However, if rings are temporary, perhaps we just missed out on seeing giant ring systems of Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune, which have only thin ringlets today". The planet's rings span 170,000 miles across and are bright enough to be visible with a child's telescope. They're showering about 2 tons per second on Saturn in a phenomenon dubbed "ring rain". Once bound to the planet's magnetic field, which curves into the northern and southern hemispheres, the particles are pulled into the planet and vaporized. Essentially, ultraviolet light from the sun and plasma clouds from tiny meteoroid strikes electrically charge the ice particles that make up Saturn's rings.

Look up while you can.

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