We might not know a lot about the universe, but some things have been written in the stars since the dawn of time. Take Saturn’s rings – they’ve always been there, right? Well, it seems as though they are actually fairly new, according to scientists.
The Initial Beliefs
Saturn was formed around 4.5 billion years ago, and many scientists have always believed that the rings formed around the same time. Our solar system was once a floating mass of ice. Investigating the planet seemed to suggest that the rings were created out of any ice that was left over from the formation of the rest of the solar system. However, those thoughts were all about to change.
A New Age
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft was about to give the rings a brand new age – just before it was destroyed by falling into the planet. It turns out the shuttle was able to fly between the rings and the planet, giving scientists an opportunity to see how the craft was affected by the pull of the rings. It was only then that they learned these rings might be as new as 100 million years old.
Now, scientists have come forward with alternative ways these incredible rings could have been formed. It seems as though they are stuck in a gravitational pull, but what are they? Many believe that an object was destroyed near the planet and the debris that was left got sucked into the gravitational pull. They have then been spinning around the planet ever since. If they’re right, the rings could be as young as 10 million years old.
What This Means
So what does this all mean? Scientists once believed that the rings were like clouds on Earth as they had no mass and stayed in the atmosphere. However, the gravitational pull is so much greater than they ever believed. Plus, the spacecraft was able to weigh the rings before it was destroyed. It turns out that they have a huge mass – a game-changing find when learning about the other planets in our solar system.
Many of us love staring up at space. While there is so much to explore still, it seems as though we can learn even more hidden secrets about the planets in our solar system each and every day.