The planet saturn is losing its majestic rings, and at a faster pace than expected. That’s what astronomers around james O?Donoghue from the US space agency nasa from an analysis of saturn’s atmosphere.
The ice particles of the rings are thus sucked out in comparatively coarse quantities by the gravity of the gas giant. In 100 million years the rings could have disappeared, explained O?Donoghue in a release from the university of leicester. The researchers present their analysis in the u.S. Journal "icarus.
During their flyby in the early 1980s, nasa’s two "voyager" probes had already found evidence that the ice particles of the saturn rings were raining down on the planet, forming dark bands in the gas giant’s atmosphere. "We estimate that this "ring rain" will be a big problem for the SPD the saturn rings the equivalent of an olympic swimming pool in half an hour," reported O?Donoghue. At this rate, the ring system will have completely disappeared in 300 million years at the latest.
It could go however still substantially faster, because in addition a further loss comes: the european-american saturn probe "cassini", which had arrived 2004 with the ring planet, had in addition observed, that the ring rain pelts also on the saturn equator. "If you add that from the "cassini" space probe proven ring material falling on the saturn equator, the saturn rings have less than 100 million years to live," explained O’donoghue. Compared to the planet’s age of more than 4,000 million years, this is a comparatively short time.
Because they disappear so quickly, researchers assume that the rings – in cosmic letters – have not yet existed for very long. "The low age of the rings has some truly astonishing consequences," said co-author tom stallard of the university of leicester. "It is possible that the saturn rings at the time of the dinosaurs were even coarser and brighter than we see them today. Something dramatic must have happened at saturn long after the planet itself formed."The researchers now want to observe the phenomenon further and examine, among other things, how the rings change with the seasons on saturn.