Saturn’s Rings Are Younger Than Previously Thought

Dec 15, 2017

By Steven Novella

The gorgeous rings of Saturn are one of the most dramatic features of our solar system, and certainly a favorite of any backyard astronomer. Are they, however, a fixture that have been present for the majority of the life of our solar system, or are they a recent addition?

Of course we have no observations from millions or billions of years ago, so we can only infer their probable age. Up until recently astronomers believed they were probably ancient because the large collisions that likely produced them would have been far more likely in the early crowded solar system. However – recent evidence from Cassini has changed that conclusion.

The Cassini probe made detailed observations of Saturn and its rings for years, until it plummeted into the planet this September. Scientists are still analyzing all the data it sent back home. Two lines of evidence suggest that the rings of Saturn are far younger than previously suspected

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One comment on “Saturn’s Rings Are Younger Than Previously Thought”

  • @ OP – The new age estimate for the rings is only 150-300 million years old.
    That is much younger than previously thought.
    Painstaking measurements by Cassini over 12 years has given us a much more accurate measurement,
    which is 10 times the flux that was previously estimated.
    That, revises down the estimated age of the rings based on their sootiness.
    This is a much stronger line of evidence and comes pretty close to a direct measure of their age.


    That means for most of the life of the solar system Saturn did not have its current ring system.
    Perhaps we are just lucky to be living in a time when we have such a rare and lovely spectacle.

    That conclusion does not follow from the initial premise!

    The age of particular ring particles, is not necessarily the age of the ring system!

    The rings do appear to be raining into Saturn from the near edge.
    Material from the rings are also bleeding out from the outer edge.
    But there is currently a wide range of estimates of how long such rings survive, and no clear consensus.

    However, some rings are contained within narrow orbits, by shepherd moons, while others are constantly renewed by being fed by water-ice plumes from cryovolcanism!

    now we have direct evidence that the ice volcanoes are quite literally pumping the moon’s water off into Saturn’s rings on a one-way journey.
    The images above, which were captured by the Cassini spacecraft and published last week in the Astronomical Journal, show long, sinuous tendrils of ice dust originating from the moon’s south pole geysers and reaching into Saturn’s massive E-ring.

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