Saturn is one of the most recognizable planets of the Solar System thanks to its emblematic rings, but these are disappearing and are doing so at an accelerated rate.
The rings are being dragged towards the planet due to gravity “like a dusty rain of ice particles, under the influence of Saturn’s magnetic field.”
Experts believe that the sixth planet in the Solar System could run out of rings in about 300 million years, a period “relatively short compared to the age of the planet” that is more than 4 billion years, said James O’Donoghue, from the Gorddard de la Nasa Space Flight Center.
This “rain of rings” towards the planet is estimated to an amount of water that could fill an Olympic pool in half an hour, the expert explained.
Scientists have wondered for a long time if the planet was created with rings or if they were formed later. The most recent investigations indicate the most plausible scenario would be the latter, as the rings should not be more than one hundred million years old.
O’Donoghue considered that “we are lucky” to see the ring system of Saturn in the middle of its life, although “perhaps”, if these are temporary, it is “possible that we have missed seeing other giant ring systems, for example, on Jupiter, Uranus or Neptune, which currently have only thin rings”.
The first indications that there was an “annular rain” on Saturn came from the observations of the space probe Voyager 1, launched in 1977.
Saturn’s rings are formed mostly by chunks of ice water that vary in size, from microscopic dust grains to stones several meters in size,which are trapped between the gravity of the planet that tends to attract them and their orbital velocity that drives them into space.