Saturn is one of the most recognizable planets because of its giant ring. Saturn’s ring extends 6,630 to 120,700 kilometers outward from Saturn’s equator and approximately 20 meters (66 ft) in thickness. Saturn is also the most distant planet easily visible to the unaided eye from Earth.
What is Saturn’s rings made of?
Saturn was formed 4.5 billion years ago, but its rings were formed just 100-200 million years ago. The ring is made of water ice ranging from the size of microscopic dust grains to boulders several yards across. The ring’s particles are caught in a balancing act between the pull of Saturn’s gravity, which wants to draw them back into the planet, and their orbital velocity, which wants to fling them outward into space.
Why is Saturn loosing its rings?
Saturn is losing its ring due to ultraviolet light from the sun. When the particles in the rings is bombarded by the UV light of the sun, the particles get electrically charged. Once charged, the balance between Saturn’s pull and its orbital velocity is drastically changed, and Saturn’s gravity pulls the ring’s particle into its atmosphere. As it reached its atmosphere, the particle vaporized and falls down to Saturn as rain.
When will Saturn’s rings dissappear?
Right now, it’s raining 10,000 kilograms of ring rain on Saturn per second. Fast enough to fill an Olympic-sized pool in half an hour. Previously it was estimated that Saturn will lose its ring in 300 million years. However, according to new observations by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, we won’t be able to see the ring in 100 million years. Since the UV light from the sun is responsible for this phenomenon, varying exposure to sunlight also changes the quantity of ring rain.
“We are lucky to be around to see Saturn’s ring system, which appears to be in the middle of its lifetime. However, if rings are temporary, perhaps we just missed out on seeing giant ring systems of Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune, which have only thin ringlets today!”O Donoghue, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center