Saturn’s rings are very young

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Data from Cassini’s last ring-diving orbits has now strengthened the hypothesis that Saturn’s rings formed very recently, just a few hundred million years ago.

Saturn acquired its jewels relatively late in life. If any astronomers had gazed at the sky in the time of the dinosaurs, they might have seen a bare and boring Saturn.

It was then that some sort of catastrophe struck the gas giant. Perhaps a stray comet or asteroid struck an icy moon, tossing its remnants into orbit. Or maybe the orbits of Saturn’s moons somehow shifted, and the resulting gravitational tug-of-war pulled a moon apart. However it happened, two new lines of evidence from Cassini make it clear that the rings were not around in the early days of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago, as scientists had long believed, says Jeff Cuzzi, a ring specialist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. “It rules out the primordial ring story,” Cuzzi says. “That’s what it looks like to me.”

At the moment there is no consensus on what might have caused the rings formation so recently.



  • mike shupp

    And why is there a tenuous ring about Jupiter? And a tenuous PARTIAL ring about Uranus? And no relic of such a thing about the Earth, which in theory has had a couple of noteworthy collisions of its own with celestial objects?

    I.e., we could use a more general explanation,

  • ken anthony

    Funny how they use collisions to solve problems that end up creating other problems. Not so funny is how they say it happened with such authority (when speaking to us simple folk.)

  • mike shupp

    Oh, I dunno. My thought is, likely there was quite a bit of debris about the earth back around the time the moon was being put together, but the solar wind and light pressure shoved off the lighter stuff. Stronger solar wind and light pressure might explain why nothing lingered around Mercury and Venus long enough to coalesce into moons. I think there are plausible explanations for moon formation and rings and no doubt other interesting phenomena we just haven’t seen yet.

    But I’m not an Official Planetary Scientist, just this guy mumbling to himself and hand waving. I’d really like to see somebody tackle this stuff more rigorously. Other hand … I’m complaining about a lack of satisfactory explanations for things which NOBODY EVER IMAGINED for the first twenty years or so of my life, so it’s not as if we can argue “Astronomy has failed. Science is all wrong!”

    Nah, it’s blissful to be alive and aware of the progress we’re making. HOSANNAH!

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