Scientists have discovered Saturn’s rings are much younger than once thought, having formed as little as 10 million years ago. After Dinosaurs walked the Earth. This is far later than the when Saturn first formed—around 4.2 billion years ago—and means the planet’s iconic rings probably only appeared after the dinosaurs went extinct around 65 million years ago.
A recent study published in the journal Icarus suggested that Saturn’s rings will be completely gone in around 300 million years. Researchers found the rings are losing mass at the maximum rate predicted, with the ice particles being tugged into Saturn by its gravitational pull.
In a new study published in Science, a team of researchers led by Luciano Iess, used data from NASA’s Cassini mission to show new measurements of the gravitational field around Saturn and its rings. They used data from Cassini’s “Grand Finale,” where the craft plunged through the planet’s rings before burning up in the atmosphere below.
“The relationship between the mass and age of the rings is subtle,”
Luciano said there is a flux of “contaminant particles” present around Saturn that is sprayed onto the rings at a constant rate. By measuring the mass, they were able to estimate the total amount of deposited particles—and how long it took them to accumulate: 10 to 100 million years.
Before the Cassini mission, it was impossible to distinguish the gravitational effect of the rings from the main body of Saturn. This mean the mass of the rings , which is linked to their age, could not be established.