Published: Mon, January 21, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Saturn spent billions of years without its rings: Scientists

Saturn spent billions of years without its rings: Scientists

Saturn's rings are surprisingly young, according to a new survey of the gravity data captured by the Cassini probe during its final flyby. Based on that estimate, they now believe Saturn's rings are much younger than previously thought, originating only 10 million years ago. That means dinosaurs with telescopes could've seen a Saturn without rings or with rings just beginning to form.

In a new study published in Science, a team of researchers led by Luciano Iess, from Italy's Sapienza University of Rome, have now used data from NASA's Cassini mission to produce new measurements of the gravitational field around Saturn and its rings. As recently discovered by NASA next to the planet the rings will disappear in the near future on a cosmic scale, and their whole system will be eaten by Saturn approximately 300 million years. By knowing the mass of the rings, and how much of that mass is composed of dust (about 1%), the researchers were able to calculate how long it would have taken for the rings to accumulate that much dust.

Understanding the rings' age and mass is "a fundamental goal of its mission", he added.

This finding suggests "the rings are relatively recent" because they would probably be heavier and less bright if they were older due to being "contaminated and darkened by interplanetary debris". During six of these crossings, a radio link with Earth was monitored to make the first accurate estimate of the amount of material in the planet's rings. His ancestor could act as a small moon or large comet that goes well with the fact that Cassini found a lot of organics in the rings and in the last seconds of his life. They are composed nearly entirely of water-ice and a small amount of rocky material.

Now, data from the mission's grand finale is giving scientists insight into the extensive system, and it's potential age.

It's always been known that Saturn's equatorial atmosphere rotates around the planet faster than its inner layers and core.

Saturn's layers rotate at different speeds.

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"That turned out to be massive flows in the atmosphere at least 6,000 miles (9,000 km) deep around the equatorial region".

With this puzzle solved, scientists were free to measure the gravitational influence of Saturn's rings.

NASA scientists had data from Cassini and data from the Voyager spacecraft to use in their quest. "The questions are what causes the more rapidly rotating part of the atmosphere to go so deep, and what does that tell us about Saturn's interior?"

They also determined that the planet's rocky core is between 15 and 18 times the mass of Earth.

Cassini accomplished this by measuring the forces of gravity acting on it as it descended.

Cassini's view of Saturn during its final flyby of the gas giant. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The radar instrument was built by JPL and the Italian Space Agency, working with team members from the USA and several European countries.

Mankovich developed a set of models of the internal structure of Saturn, used them to predict the frequency spectrum of Saturn's internal vibrations, and compared those predictions with the waves observed by Cassini in Saturn's C ring.

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