Saturn’s Rings Might Be Ancient

Clara Moskowitz, Saturn’s rings may be much older and more massive than previously thought, according to a new study.

The study’s computer simulation showed how the planet’s rings could date back billions of years ago to the early ages of the solar system, rather than only 100 million years ago (during Earth’s Age of Dinosaurs), as previous observations suggested. The calculations are consistent with recent observations of the rings by the Cassini–Huygens spacecraft currently studying Saturn and its moons.

Larry Esposito and Joshua Elliott, both at the University of Colorado, modeled how meteorites smash into the rings, shattering the ring particles and coating each one in a layer of ice and dust. Before, scientists had assumed that this shattering led to the eventual dissipation of the rings, but a new simulation, created by Glen Stewart and Stuart Robbins of the University of Colorado, shows that after breaking up, the particles could again clump together in a perpetual recycling process.


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