Saturn’s rings are falling in on the planet as icy rain, according to researchers.
Scientists say this is occurring due to the planet’s intense gravity.
Dr. James O’Donoghue, from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, is going to track the destruction of the rings, according to a University of Reading release.
He will use some of the world’s most powerful telescopes to do so, including the James Webb Space Telescope and Hawaii’s Keck Telescope.
“We’re still trying to figure out exactly how fast they are eroding,” he said in a statement. “Currently, research suggests the rings will only be part of Saturn for another few hundred million years. This may sound like a long time, but in the history of the universe this is a relatively quick death. We could be very lucky to be around at a time when the rings exist.”
The work will start in December 2023 at the university’s Department of Meteorology. O’Donoghue, who has previously worked for NASA, also plans to examine why the upper atmospheres of Jupiter and Saturn are so hot when they are so far from the sun.
Research published in March, using observations from the Hubble Space Telescope, retired Cassini probe, Voyager spacecraft and the retired International Ultraviolet Explorer mission, found that Saturn’s vast ring system is heating the giant planet’s upper atmosphere.
“This phenomenon is unprecedented in our solar system. It’s an unexpected interaction between Saturn and its rings that potentially could provide a tool for predicting if planets around other stars have glorious Saturn-like ring systems, too,” NASA said.
According to experts at the University of Reading, Saturn’s rings could be only 100million years old.
Analysis of gravity science data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft in 2019 indicated that the rings formed between 10 million and 100 million years ago, during the age of the dinosaurs.
The rings are thought to be pieces of comets, asteroids or shattered moons that broke up before they reached the sixth planet from the sun. The rings are composed of millions of tiny pieces of rock and ice coated in other materials.
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Each ring orbits at a different speed around the gas giant.
Saturn is a massive ball made mostly of hydrogen and helium, and is the second-largest planet in our solar system. Saturn has many moons .
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