Saturn hasn’t always had rings | 1/23/2019 | Eleanor Imster
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The Cassini spacecraft acquired the images to make this natural color mosaic on May 9, 2007, as it soared above the shaded side of Saturn’s rings. Image via NASA PhotoJournal.

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Analysis - Gravity - Science - Data - Cassini

A new analysis of gravity science data from the Cassini spacecraft’s last ultra-close flybys of Saturn in 2017 suggests the planet’s iconic rings are only 10-100 million years old. From our planet’s perspective, that means Saturn’s rings may have formed during the age of dinosaurs.

The findings, published January 17, 2019, in the peer-reviewed journal Science, support the hypothesis that the rings are rubble from a comet or Kuiper Belt object captured late in Saturn’s history.

Month - Research - Saturn - Rings - Years

Last month we reported on new research confirming that Saturn will lose its rings in about 300 million years, or even sooner. Saturn formed 4.5 billion years ago, in the early years of our solar system. The new research says was Saturn was ringless for most of its history and the ring system is a young upstart that attached to Saturn much later.

Artist’s concept of the Cassini orbiter crossing Saturn’s ring plane. New measurements of the rings’ mass give scientists the best answer yet to the question of their age. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Acts - NASA - Cassini - Spacecraft - Death

One of the last acts of NASA’s Cassini spacecraft before its 2017 death plunge into Saturn’s hydrogen and helium atmosphere was to coast between the planet and its rings and let them tug it around, essentially acting as a gravity probe. Precise measurements of Cassini’s final trajectory have now allowed scientists to make the first accurate estimate of the amount of material in the planet’s rings, weighing them based on the strength of their gravitational pull.

Once scientists knew how much gravity was pulling on Cassini, causing it to accelerate – down to a fraction of a...
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