Gautam Gambhir's international career is over

Saturn is losing its rings quickly

A Saturn without rings is hard to imagine. Nevertheless, the most distinctive mark of the planet - in cosmic terms - may soon be gone. Astronomers conclude from an analysis of Saturn's atmosphere.

According to the astronomers headed by James O’Donoghue from the US space agency NASA, the ice particles in the rings are sucked out in comparatively large quantities by the gravity of the gas giant. In 100 million years, the rings could have disappeared, O’Donoghue explained in a communication from the University of Leicester.

During their flyby in the early 1980s, NASA's two “Voyager” probes had already found evidence that the ice particles from Saturn's rings are raining down on the planet, forming dark bands in the gas giant's atmosphere. "We estimate that this" torrential rain "deprives the Saturn rings of the volume of an Olympic swimming pool in half an hour," reports O’Donoghue. At this rate, the ring system will have completely disappeared in 300 million years at the latest.

Young age

It could be much faster, however, because there is another loss: The European-American Saturn probe "Cassini", which arrived at the ring planet in 2004, had also observed that the ring rain also pelted the Saturn equator. "If you add the ring material detected by the Cassini space probe that falls on the Saturn equator, the rings of Saturn have less than 100 million years to live," explains O’Donoghue. Compared to the planet's age of more than 4,000 million years, this is a comparatively short time.

Because they are disappearing so quickly, researchers assume that the rings - on a cosmic scale - have not existed for very long. “The consequences of the rings being so young have some really amazing consequences,” added Leicester University co-author Tom Stallard. “It is possible that the rings of Saturn were even larger and brighter than we see them today in the time of the dinosaurs. Something dramatic must have happened at Saturn long after the planet itself formed. ”The researchers now want to continue observing the phenomenon, including examining how the rings change with the seasons on Saturn.

more on the subject