The rings that surround Saturn are one of the features that make it a strikingly different and unique planet. However, the rings are not permanent and scientists believe that they could disappear in less than 100 million years. This may seem like a long time to us but if you consider that the planet is estimated to be around 4 billion years old, then 100 million years is a very short time.
A new research report from NASA says that the rings will be pulled apart by Saturn’s gravity and into the surface in a “ring of rain.” The rings mostly consist of water ice. The NASA team says that the entire ring system could be gone in 100 million years. This is way less compared to the 300 million years that had been estimated by previous research. The composition of the rings has been of great interest to many scientists. Although it’s mostly water ice, the sizes differ. From smaller microscopic particles to even large boulders positioned several yards across each other, they are simply a marvel.
The origin of the planet has also been a point of contentious debate among scientists. Some believe that Saturn was formed about a billion years ago together with the rest of the solar system. Other scientists, however, believe that the planet could have been here way before the solar system was formed. But the rings around the planets came later. Recent studies by NASA show that even though the planet itself is billions of years old, the rings are not more than 100 million years old.
The theory right now is that the rings are temporary. Scientists say that it’s very likely that even the other big planets like Uranus and Neptune may have had such rings. It’s only that they disappeared way before human civilization. Besides, a careful study on the two planets indicates that they still have small ringlets around them suggesting that perhaps they used to have giant rings in the past just like Saturn.
Saturn is about 900 million miles away from the sun. This is about ten times further than Earth. Although a day on the planet will take about 10.7 hours, a year will be equivalent to about 29 years as we know them on Earth. The planet is just filled gas. It’s huge too measuring nearly 700 times more the size of our planet. Scientists say that Saturn at the moment is aligned with the sun in a straight line. The Earth stands in the middle and this makes it easier for the planet to be viewed easily from Earth.
In addition to the ring around it, scientists have also viewed a number of its moons using a normal telescope over the years. But despite this, the planet is still a mystery for most of us. Current explorations have largely focused on Mars due to its striking similarity with Earth. Scientists believe that Mars could, in fact, support life but they are still probing underneath its surface and on its atmosphere to get a better understanding of the planet and what it has to offer.