Saturn did not always have rings

Saturn owes its unique appearance to its rings. But in the long history of the Solar System, this planet has not always looked like this. Scientists have found evidence that Saturn’s rings are relatively young, less than 100 million years old.

The Cassini probe made several flybys in the last days before hitting Saturnow between it and its rings. Of course, during these maneuversow the probe was collecting data, whichore now being used by scientistsow to determine the mass of the rings and estimate their age. As the researchers found, the rings are relatively young, with between 10 and 100 millionoin the years of.

The research supports the hypothesis that Saturn’s rings are the remnants of a comet or other object from the Kuiper Belt, ktory was captured by the gravity of the planet. The results of the scientists’ workow were published in the pages of the journal „Science”.

In the final phase of the mission called „Grande Finale”, The Cassini probe dived between the planet and its innermost ring. The flights took place at an altitude of 2600-3900 kilometersoin over the tops of Saturn’s clouds. Measurements made during 22 such flybyow were used by researchers to estimate the amount of material that makes up the rings and to estimate their mass based on gravitational pull.

The results indicate that the mass of the rings is roIn about 40 percent. Mimas masses – one of the moon’soin the planets. Mimas, on the other hand, is about 2,000 times smaller than our Silver Globe. Scientists also determined that the rings are relatively young, obviously on a cosmic scale. Researchers believe that less than 100 million were createdow years ago, perhaps even quite recently, as 10 millionoyears ago.

The mass estimate is based on data showing how much the Cassini probe’s flight path was altered by the gravity of the rings. Initially, however, measurements did not match predictions based on models of the planet and the rings. Only when the complexoł calculated the very deep movements of the planet’s atmosphere, the measurements made sense.

– When I first looked at the data I was blown away, I didn’t believe it because I trusted our models. It took some time to understand that there must have been some effect ktory changed the gravitational field. This is something we did not consider at first,” said Burkhard Militzer of the University of California – Berkeley. – Turned out to be massive flows in the atmosphere at a depth of at least 9,000 kilometersoin the region of the rownik. At first we thought these clouds were like clouds on Earth, ktore are confined to a thin layer and contain almost no mass, but those on Saturn are really massive – added.

During the study, the roAlso, that the surface layer of clouds located on rownik of the planet rotates 4 percent faster than the layer located at a depth of 9,000 kilometersow. This deep layer needs 9 minutes more time to rotateot than the top layer of clouds, whichora circles the planet once every 10 hours and 33 minutes.

– The discovery of deeply swirling layers is a surprising finding about the internal structure of the planet, said Linda Spilker of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. – The question is what triggers this process and what it m usowi about the interior of Saturn – added.

Teamoł scientists led by Luciano Iessa of the University of Rome „La Sapienza” He also calculated that the rocky nucleus of a planet must be between 15 and 18 Earth masses. These results are similar to previous estimatesow.

The results of the study resolve the long-term spor amongod planetologistoregarding Saturn’s rings. SomeoSome thought the rings formed with the planet about 4.5 billion years ago from ice debrisow remaining in orbit after the formation of the Solar System. Others that the rings are very young and that Saturn at some point „caught” Kuiper belt object or comet and gradually reduced it to an orbiting wokoł debris.