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Researchers Solve Mystery Behind Origin Of Saturn’s Rings

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A team of scientists has created a new model explaining the origin of Saturn's rings: their hypotheses were theorized based on a series of computer simulations.

The results are applicable to the rings of other giant planets as well, explaining the particular phenomenon of compositional differences between the rings of Saturn and Uranus.

The study was published in the online journal Icarus on Oct. 6.

The giant planets inside our solar system have very different rings from each other. Based on the results of observations so far, Saturn's rings are made of more than 95 percent icy particles, while Uranus' and Neptune's have darker rings, which could be explained through a higher rock content.

The first time the rings of Saturn were observed was back in the 17th century; since then, generations of astronomers have tried to understand the rings' properties and origins. However, despite the evolution in observational methods, the probes and the visual data, little was known about the rings' origin until recently.

The current research was aimed at understanding the Late Heavy Bombardment period, which is believed to have happened approximately 4.1 to 3.8 billion years back. The period is also known as lunar cataclysm, and it's an event during which an extraordinary number of asteroids are theorized to have collided with the early planets in our solar system. Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars are the ones that, it is believed, were most affected during the period.

The study takes this orbital migration theory and contextualizes it. It is believed that a large number of celestial objects, roughly the size of Pluto, existed beyond Neptune's location. The scientists discovered that Saturn, Uranus and Neptune had close encounters with the objects many times during that period, suggesting that it was possible for them to have destroyed the large objects through their tidal force.

Then, computer simulations recreated the disruptions of the objects, and their results depended on a series of initial conditions, among which the minimum approach distance to the planet. What the study discovered is that up to 10 percent of the mass of the Kuiper belt objects was captured into orbits around the planet, which would further explain the rings around the two giant planets.

The model serves as a good explanation for the compositional difference between the rings of the two planets. Provided the Kuiper objects were to have layered structures, each of the planets captured a distinct layer.

The discovery comes after Saturn's moon, Titan, was found to have an impossible cloud, making it the most Earth-like world we have encountered until now, according to NASA.

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