Saturn is losing its iconic rings, will disappear completely

Saturn's iconic rings will disappear completely thanks to 'ring rain,' though they will likely remain for 300 million more years.

Published Tue, Mar 29 2022 1:03 AM CDT   |   Updated Fri, Apr 22 2022 3:25 PM CDT

The "cosmically young" rings still have life left, but their time is finite.

Saturn is losing its iconic rings, will disappear completely 01 |

We still don't know exactly how Saturn's rings formed, though they are estimated to be between 10 and 100 million years old, narrowing down the possible theories. One theory suggests that the rings could have been formed by one of Saturn's moons coming too close to the planet and being shredded apart.

With every passing year, the planetary ring is losing material due to "ring rain." The term refers to incoming micrometeorites and solar radiation, which strike the particles in the ring, electrifying them and aligning them with Saturn's magnetic field lines. This sets the particles on a course for Saturn's atmosphere, where gravity pulls them in until they are vaporized.

Astronomers believe this process will take around 300 million years to eliminate the ring system completely. James O'Donoghue of JAXA, Japan's space agency, said, "this is us looking at Saturn's rings in their heyday," and though "it's very, very sad that the rings will disappear in the future, I'm very happy that we're lucky enough to see it."

"Maybe through some process, another moon is broken apart, a comet comes in too close, and you start it all over again. Maybe this isn't the last we'll see of rings around Saturn," said Linda Spilker, a planetary scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Adam grew up watching his dad play Turok 2 and Age of Empires on a PC in his computer room, and learned a love for video games through him. Adam was always working with computers, which helped build his natural affinity for working with them, leading to him building his own at 14, after taking apart and tinkering with other old computers and tech lying around. Adam has always been very interested in STEM subjects, and is always trying to learn more about the world and the way it works.

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