Saturn Slowly Losing its Ringsadmin
The image of Saturn we are all familiar today won’t be around forever according to a report recently published in Icarus. The combination of ‘ring rain’ – the phenomenon of the ice crystals that make up Saturn’s rings being pulled by the planet’s gravity and bringing with them exceptional large amounts of water in short periods of time – and the ring-material detected falling into Saturn’s equator, researchers believe the rings have less than 100 million years to survive. “This is relatively short, compared to Saturn’s age of over 4 billion years,” James O’Donoghue of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center said in a statement.
Saturn’s rings are made mostly of ice pieces that become electrically charged, allowing them to feel the planet’s magnetic pull. “At this point,” IFLScience.com reports, “the forces acting on them are unbalanced and the ice crystals fly into the planet.”
However, scientists seem to think that the rings aren’t nearly as old as the planet itself; presumably they aren’t more than 100 million years old. “We are lucky to be around to see Saturn’s ring system, which appears to be in the middle of its lifetime,” O’Donoghue said. “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.”