Saturn may have flown solo for billions of years before getting its stunning set of rings, a study says.
An Italian-led team reported on Thursday that Saturn’s primary rings appear to be just 10 million to 100 million years old. The gas giant Saturn is 4.5 billion years old, like all the other planets in our solar system. The findings are based on data collected by Nasa’s Cassini spacecraft while diving between Saturn and its rings in 2017, shortly before its demise.
By estimating the mass of the rings through gravity measurements, the researchers gauged the age of the three main rings: A, B and C. It’s still a mystery, though, how these icy rings formed. Scientists suspect a collision between two of Saturn’s many moons or perhaps a moon and comet. The rings are made mostly of ice. The remaining 1% is dust and may be organic contaminants.
Researcher Luciano Iess said orbital motion sprayed the dust and other contaminants onto the icy rings at a constant rate. His team calculated the time it would take for the contaminants to accumulate and it turned out to be a short like 10 million to 100 million years.