Published on Dec 19, 2018
New NASA research indicates that Saturn's iconic rings are not only younger than previously thought, but also that these rings are actually dissapearing at an extremely fast pace. The research found that the rings are draining away toward the planet as a dusty rain of ice particles. Saturn's rings consist mostly of water and ice that ranges in size from microscopic dust to large boulders. Ultraviolet light from the Sun and plasma clouds coming from tiny meteoroid strikes change the icy dust, which then becomes bound to Saturn's magnetic field and pulled into the planet by gravity. This material rains into the planet and begins to disintegrate, allowing it to react chemically with the electrically charged part of Saturn's upper atmosphere - the ionosphere. The ions glow in an ifrared light as a part of this process if the rain is light, but the emissions dim if the rain is heavy. This was observed using instruments attached to the Keck telescope in Hawaii. The rate of disappearence in this ring rain study has allowed scientists to infer that Saturn's rings formed less than 100 million years ago. This means Saturn wasn't born this way, as the planet is known to be over 4 billion years old. And when the ring rain data is combined with observations made by the Voyager's 1 and 2 missions, scientists from NASA Goddard are able to estimate that the rings will be gone in 300 million years. So, if this rain doesn't go away, Saturn will be ring-less another day. https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/go...