Since the Voyager spacecraft visited Saturn in the 1980s, scientists have known that the ring system’s icy particles are plummeting into the gas giant’s gravitational well.
At the time, it was estimated that Saturn’s ring system would evaporate within 300 million years, but Cassini’s observations indicate that they could be gone within 100 million years.
Saturn is 4.5 billion years old, but its ring system is just 400 million years old.
By precisely quantifying the quantity of dust that has settled on the ring system, the researchers were able to date it using a novel method. This is comparable to determining how long ago a vehicle was abandoned by measuring how much grime has accumulated on it.
The crew conducted measurements between 2004 and 2017 using the Cosmic Dust Analyzer, a specialized instrument aboard the Cassini spacecraft.
The dating is based on the instrument’s collection of 163 granules of dust over a period of 13 years. For the majority of the time that scientists have known about Saturn’s rings, they have presumed that they formed simultaneously with the planet.
Scientists have only recently realized that the ring system surrounding the Solar System’s crown jewel is not permanent.
In Science Advances, a paper describing the findings has been published. The investigation provides the most conclusive evidence to date Saturn’s ring system. Sascha Kempf, the paper’s lead author, explains,
“If the rings are transient and dynamic, why are we observing them now? It’s just too lucky.” Saturn’s ring systems remain enigmatic for numerous causes. Scientis