When you think about the planets of the solar system,which of them, in your opinion, attracts the most attention? Obviously this is Saturn. All thanks to the rings of this amazing giant planet. While the planet itself is composed mainly of hydrogen with impurities of helium, ammonia, methane, water and other heavy elements, the rings of the gas giant are made up of tiny particles of ice, dust and other space debris. A similar composition of Saturn's rings allows us to see them through a telescope - the fact is that ice perfectly reflects sunlight. However, nothing lasts forever in our world - recently astronomers have come to the conclusion that Saturn is losing its rings.
When did the rings of Saturn appear?
Saturn's main adornment is its rings, reflectmore light than the disk of the gas giant itself. The planet has three main rings, and the fourth is very thin. The diameter of the rings is 250 thousand km, but you can’t call them thick. The thickness of the three largest rings does not exceed a kilometer. The reason lies in the fact that the rings consist of billions of particles from 1 to 10 cm in size. These particles are 93% water composed of copolymers and silicates. The remaining 7% went to carbon.
You may be surprised, but most of yourSaturn’s life was just like our planet - without rings. According to experts, the gas giant was born about 4.5 billion years ago, and recently acquired rings - about 100 or 200 million years ago. This means that you and I are really lucky - we see Saturn in all its glory, framed by rings. Although, if you think about it, these rings may be younger than some dinosaurs.
However, the rings of Saturn are not just beautiful. Thanks to them, astronomers made a number of amazing discoveries about our neighbors in the solar system. Let's discuss some of them with the participants of our Telegram chat.
How was the solar system explored?
Today it seems that we know about neighboring worldsquite a lot and for quite some time. However, this feeling is misleading. When in 1968, director Stanley Kubrick shot the legendary film “Space Odyssey 2001,” in which a spaceship with people on board flies to Jupiter, our knowledge about these planets was more than meager. The situation changed only nine years later. In 1977, NASA launched the Voyager probes into space, whose main mission was to study Jupiter and Saturn.
Having successfully coped with the task, probes“Voyager” set off to plow the space expanses further. For 42 years, these robotic devices have sent scientific data to Earth. And for further study of the gas giants, the NASA Cassini mission was sent. Thanks to the data obtained from the Voyager and Cassini devices, scientists realized that Saturn is gradually losing its rings.
Read more amazing facts about NASA's Cassini mission on our Yandex.Zen channel.
Why are Saturn's rings disappearing?
In the 1980s, after receiving data from“Voyagers” scientists learned that on Saturn there is the so-called ring rain, which occurs under the influence of gravity. Particles of ice from the rings attracts to the planet - as a result, a huge amount of water products fall on the planet. Analyzing the data obtained by Cassini, scientists came to the conclusion that the rings of this beautiful planet will sink into oblivion in less than 100 million years.
However, this is not all. The Cassini probe explored the moon of Saturn Enceladus. As you know, Enceladus is the most reflective moon in the solar system. In the course of the study, Cassini discovered a trace of ice and gas leading from Enceladus back to the ring of Saturn. After that, astronomers paid close attention to the rings of Saturn and found out what was happening. It turns out that the satellite of the gas giant constantly throws out gas and dust.
Part of the emissions falls into space and into the ring of Saturn. However, most of the dust and gas draws back to Enceladus, creating a dazzling, white, frosty haze.
What other secrets do you think Saturn’s rings hide? So far, only one thing is clear - we still do not know much.