When you think of the planets of the solar system, which ones do you think are the most noticeable? Obviously, that's Saturn. All thanks to the rings of this amazing giant planet. While the planet itself is mainly composed of hydrogen contaminated by helium, ammonia, methane, water, and other heavy elements, the rings of the gas giant are made up of tiny particles of ice, dust, and other space debris. A similar composition of the Saturn rings allows us to see them through a telescope – the fact is that ice reflects the sunlight perfectly. In our world, however, nothing lasts forever – recently, astronomers have come to the conclusion that Saturn loses its rings.
When did the rings of Saturn appear?
The main decoration of Saturn – its rings reflect more light than the disk of the gas giant. The planet has three main rings and the fourth is very thin. The diameter of the rings is 250,000 km, but you can not call them fat. The thickness of the three largest rings does not exceed one kilometer. The reason is that the rings consist of billions of 1 to 10 cm particles consisting of 93% of copolymers and silicates. The remaining 7% was carbon.
You may be surprised, but Saturn was most of his life like our planet – without rings. According to experts, the gas giant was born about 4.5 billion years ago and recently acquired rings – about 100 or 200 million years ago. This means that you and I are really lucky – we see Saturn in all its glory, framed by rings. Although, if you think about it, these rings may be younger than some dinosaurs.
The rings of Saturn, however, are not only beautiful. Thanks to them, astronomers made a number of amazing discoveries about our neighbors in the solar system. Let's discuss some of them with the participants in our telegram chat.
How was the solar system researched?
Today we seem to know a lot about the neighboring worlds and have been doing so for quite some time. However, this feeling is misleading. When director Stanley Kubrick made the legendary movie "Space Odyssey 2001" in 1968, in which a spaceship with people on board flies to Jupiter, our knowledge of these planets was more than meager. The situation did not change until nine years later. In 1977, NASA launched the Voyager probes into space, whose main mission was to study Jupiter and Saturn.
After successfully completing the task, the Voyager probes made their way to further plow the cosmic reaches. For 42 years, these robots have sent scientific data to Earth. And to further investigate the gas giants, the NASA Cassini mission was sent. Thanks to data from Voyager and Cassini, scientists discovered that Saturn is gradually losing its rings.
For more amazing facts about NASA's Cassini mission, visit our Yandex.Zen channel.
Why are the Saturn rings disappearing?
In the 1980s, after receiving data from the Voyagers, scientists learned that there is a so-called ring rain on Saturn, which occurs under the influence of gravity. Ice particles from the rings pull on the planet – as a result, a large amount of water products fall on the planet. In analyzing the data obtained by Cassini, the scientists concluded that the rings of this beautiful planet will be forgotten in less than 100 million years.
But that's not all. The Cassini probe explored the moon of Saturn Enceladus. As you know, Enceladus is the most reflective moon in the solar system. Over the course of the study, Cassini discovered a trail of ice and gas that led from Enceladus back to the Saturn ring. Afterwards, the astronomers paid close attention to the rings of Saturn and found out what happened. It turns out that the satellite of the gas giant constantly throws gas and dust.
Part of the emissions fall into space and into the Saturnring. Most of the dust and gas, however, is retained by Enceladus, creating a dazzling, white, frosty haze.
What other secrets do you think hide in Saturn's struggle? So far only one thing is clear – we do not know much yet.