Saturn’s rings will disappear over time

Saturn is best known for its rings, and it may seem a little strange to imagine this planet without its rings. Scientists believe that the iconic and present-day appearance of this planet was formed in the last few hundred million years. Now in three studies that Saturn’s rings done, scientists have claimed that these rings may disappear in a similar time frame.

In their studies, scientists have looked at how “clean” the rings are to determine how quickly new debris is being added and how it will affect the rings over time. Then, by putting all this data together, they determined how long Saturn’s rings would last.

The reasons for the disappearance of Saturn’s rings

According to scientists, Saturn’s rings have not been exposed to pollution for more than a few hundred million years, which is a much smaller number compared to the age of the planet (4.6 billion years). The consensus of scientists in the studies is that the constant impact of space rocks with these icy rings wears them down over time, and over the next few million years, the debris may destroy the rings. It’s also possible that Saturn’s rings, like those on Neptune and Uranus, will become lighter and harder to see over time.

All three new studies, published in the journals Science Advances and Icarus, are based on data obtained by NASA’s Cassini mission. This mission, jointly conducted by NASA and the European Space Agency, was designed to explore the planet Saturn and its moons. Cassini’s data shows that the rings are losing several tons of mass every second, meaning they don’t have much time left in astronomical terms. Researchers estimate that these rings will last for a few hundred million years at most.

According to the scientists, the rings themselves are almost entirely pure ice, with less than a few percent of their mass made up of non-ice “contaminants” (such as asteroid fragments and micrometeorites). Also, counting the number of times objects hit Saturn’s rings has been a key way to figure out their age, as some scientists have argued that the rings have always been around the planet.

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