June 1, 2023

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Saturn: They studied the planet for 13 years, which is where they ended up

A study published in the journal Science Advances indicates that Saturn’s rings are much smaller than the planet itself.

According to the study, which was led by physicist Sasha Kempf of the University of Colorado Boulder, the age of Saturn’s rings is no more than 400 million years, while Saturn itself is 4.5 billion years old. The researchers came to this conclusion by studying the layer of dust in the rings.

Saturn has seven rings made of countless pieces of ice

Over a 13-year period, from 2004 to 2017, the team used an instrument called the Cosmic Dust Analyzer on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft to analyze dust grains flying around Saturn. They collected only 163 grains that came from the neighboring regions of the planet. Based on their calculations of this substance, Saturn’s rings likely accumulated dust for a few hundred million years.

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Saturn has seven rings made up of countless pieces of ice. For most of the 20th century, scientists believed that the rings formed at the same time as Saturn. Cassini made it possible to determine the age of Saturn’s rings. The spacecraft first reached Saturn in 2004 and collected data until it crashed in 2017. Scientists have designed and built a much more sophisticated dust analyzer for NASA’s upcoming ‘Europa Clipper’ mission, scheduled for launch in 2024.

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In an earlier study, NASA scientists reported that the rings are eroding and could disappear completely in another 100 million years. However, how the rings formed in the first place remains a question. For example, some scientists have hypothesized that Saturn’s rings were formed when the planet’s gravity tore off one of its moons.

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