Saturn's rings are younger than the planet itself

2019-01-20 07:35
Saturn as seen from the Cassini spacecraft. (NASA, JPL, Space Science Institute via AP)

Saturn as seen from the Cassini spacecraft. (NASA, JPL, Space Science Institute via AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Saturn's rings are younger than scientists thought and appeared within the last 10 to 100 million years, according to research published on Thursday based on findings from NASA's Cassini spacecraft.

The sixth planet from the Sun formed about 4.5 billion years ago, along with the rest of the planets in our solar system, and spent the bulk of its existence without the characteristic rings it is known for today.

Astronomers have long believed the rings could be young, and perhaps formed by collisions between the moons of Saturn or by a comet that shattered in close proximity to the planet.

Some of these answers have come into sharper focus because of Cassini, an unmanned US-European probe that launched in 1997 and ended in 2017 with a planned death plunge into Saturn's surface.

At the end of its mission, Cassini made 22 orbits, circling between Saturn and its rings, getting closer to them than any spacecraft in history.

By studying how the flight path of Cassini was deflected by the gravity of the rings, scientists were able to deduce the rings' mass and approximate age.

"Only by getting so close to Saturn in Cassini's final orbits were we able to gather the measurements to make the new discoveries," said lead author Luciano Iess of Sapienza University of Rome.

Understanding the rings' age and mass is "a fundamental goal of its mission," he added.

A lesser mass indicates younger rings because as they age, the rings would attract more debris and grow heavier.

The rings are made up of 99% ice.

The study did not delve into the question of where the rings came from, but supported theories such as a comet or moon collision.

KEEP UPDATED on the latest news by subscribing to our FREE newsletter.

- FOLLOW News24 on Twitter

Read more on:    nasa  |  astronomy

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.