Saturn’s Rings Are Vanishing

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A NASA study shows Saturn’s rings are disappearing at an alarming rate. Ice from the rings is being pulled into the magnetic field and over time will fall into the planet. This phenomenon, called ring rain, will cause Saturn’s rings to vanish.

Saturn’s rings are not solid structures, but are made up of rocks, dust, ice and gas. Ring rain only affects the ice when it’s pulled into its magnetic field.

Scientists previously estimated that Saturn’s rings could be gone in 300 million years, but have moved that timeframe to an estimated 100 million years. While that’s an incomprehensible amount of time, it’s just the blink of an eye in the cosmic time scale.

NASA’s team estimated that the rings are about 100 million years old and have 100 million more to go. In other words, they’re in the middle of their lifetime.

NASA planetary scientist James O’Donoghue described how sometimes the ring particles become electrically charged by sunlight, which causes them to get pulled into Saturn’s magnetic field.

These particles then travel down the magnetic field lines and enter the upper atmosphere. In the upper atmosphere, the ring particles vaporize, which causes the ring rain.

The ring rain in Saturn is not a light drizzle, but more of a downpour. “We estimate that this ‘ring rain’ drains an amount of water products that could fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool from Saturn’s rings in half an hour,” O’Donoghue said

Astronomers have suspected the existence of ring rain since the first pictures of the Voyager probe in the 1980s.