Our solar system has other ringed planets, but Saturn’s famous girdle of ice and dust is by far the most amazing. And a recent study provides a brand-new theory for how and when Saturn’s rings evolved, providing an answer to a riddle that has confounded scientists ever since Galileo pointed his telescope at the planet for the first time in 1610 and made his initial observations.
According to the study, the rings were created between 100 and 200 million years ago when one of Saturn’s moons ventured too near to the planet after being knocked off course by another moon and was crushed by its gravitational pull. The findings, which were released on Thursday in the journal Science, claim that fragments from the fictitious moon, Chrysalis, continued to orbit Saturn and eventually flattened into the disk of particles visible today.
The rings have a diameter of over 170,000 miles yet are only 30 feet thick in certain locations. While the rings on Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune are there, they are smaller, darker, and fainter.
The new study reveals “a entirely different scenario that may solve the age of the rings for good,” according to Dr. Maryame El Moutamid, an astronomer at Cornell University who did not participate in the study but authored an editorial that accompanied it.
The missing-moon hypothesis offers an explanation for Saturn’s odd tilt in addition to describing how and when the rings may have formed. Saturn rotates at a substantial angle with respect to the plane in which it orbits the sun, similar to Earth but different from Jupiter, the planet in our solar system it most resembles.
Dr. Francis Nimmo, a professor of planetary science at the University of California, Santa Cruz and a co-author of the paper, said of the scenario: “It brings together two issues that had previously been viewed as independent.” It turns out that you can combine both explanations into one story.
For a long time, astronomers thought that the formation of Saturn’s rings occurred more than 4 billion years ago, when the young planet’s potent gravitational field trapped passing comets and asteroids and gradually flattened them into rings. However, findings from three missions of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration—Cassini between 2004 and 2017 and Voyager 1 and 2 in the 1980s—called that theory into question. The observations showed that the rings were substantially younger than previously thought in terms of bulk and composition.
Long-held beliefs about the intricate interactions between Saturn, its moons, and the neighboring planet Neptune were disproved by the research team’s analysis of Cassini data, which led to the discovery of the answer. Scientists previously believed that Saturn and Neptune were gravitationally interacting because they were in resonance. The investigation, however, revealed that this had formerly been the case but was no longer the case, indicating that a small moon must have disturbed the resonance when Titan, another moon, which exerted gravitational pull on Earth, brought it spiraling toward Saturn.
Not everyone agrees that the debate about Saturn’s rings and tilt has been resolved.
The new hypothesis “has a lot of things going for it,” according to Jack Lissauer, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, but it is challenging to confirm the intricate web of celestial occurrences it is founded upon. The study’s conduct was not assisted by Dr. Lissauer.
According to Matthew Tiscareno, a planetary-rings researcher at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., who was not engaged in the study, the scientific community has to take some time to analyze the new findings. The missing moon scenario, according to Dr. Tiscareno, is “an interesting new notion that probably puts us closer to understanding multiple interconnected puzzles at Saturn,” he said.
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By: Miss Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter
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