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Why Saturn could soon lose its rings

The planet is eating up its majestic rings from the inside, and as such, they could be gone within the next 100 years.

 |  3-minute read |   21-12-2018
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Growing up, I admired Saturn more than any other planet in our solar system. And the reason for it was the planet's majestic rings that I found to be even more interesting than the planet itself.

But, if a new study published in the journal Icarus is to be believed, Saturn – the second biggest planet of our solar system – could soon end up losing the very ring system that has for so long made it stand apart from all the others in its vicinity. 

saturn1-copy_122118052628.jpgThose beautiful rings! (Photo: Facebook)

Gone in a second

According to the study, the rings — which are made of 98 percent of ice and the rest rocks which are many times the size of boulders — could disappear in the next 100 years. 

Now, even though that may seem like a long time for us, in the clock of the universe which has existed for billions of years, this duration represents merely nothing more than a second in its lifetime. 

Being eaten away from the inside

Even though Saturn is not the only planet in our solar system, it's the one whose ring system is the most complex. 

What makes it so complex is the fact that the ring system has been formed because of a delicate balance between its gravity and the orbital velocity of the rings. Despite being continuously pulled inwards by the gravity of Saturn, the orbit's velocity keeps them moving along in a set path around the planet.

But there are times when certain rocks and boulders in the rings become electrically charged because of the ultraviolet light from the sun, or the plasma created by meteoroids moving through the rings. Upon being charged, the contents get attracted along the magnetic field lines and escape the rings. 

saturn3-copy_122118052754.jpgThe mysteries of the universe! (Photo: Facebook)

Age of the rings

The new findings also clear doubts on another major question – the age of Saturn's rings. 

Till now, scientists had been unsure about how old the rings on the planet are. But, according to the latest findings, they could be relatively new and are perhaps the products of a small moon or a large asteroid that collided with the planet in the recent past.

Tom Stallard, associate professor in planetary astronomy at the University of Leicester and co-author of the study explained, "The young age of the rings has some really startling implications. It is possible, in the age of the dinosaurs, that Saturn's rings were even larger and brighter than we see them today."

And if this is true, then we probably also missed out on a time when Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune too had giant rings around them. 

Be that as it may, we can still count ourselves lucky to have seen Saturn with its rings today. 

Also read: World's largest brain-mimicking computer goes live, but should we be excited?

 

Writer

Sushant Talwar Sushant Talwar @sushanttalwar

Tech journalist, DailyO

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