Saturn may be best recognized for its rings, but NASA says that the planet's unique features may soon be disappearing.
A NASA study recently aired the nearing possibility of Saturn becoming a "ringless planet," as its distinguishing features had been vanishing at a surprising rate. This confirms the observation made in the '80s during the Voyager missions, leading to the "ring rain" phenomenon.
"The rings are being pulled into Saturn by gravity as a dusty rain of ice particles under the influence of Saturn's magnetic field," NASA explained.
Estimation Of Saturn Rings' Life Span
Furthermore, NASA's James O'Donoghue, who also is an author of the study published in the journal Icarus, said that the ring rain can dump an amount of water that can fill an Olympic-sized pool in just 30 minutes. Initially, experts estimated that the eye-catching feature of Saturn will be gone in 300 million years, but as observed by the Cassini mission, the bands are looking at just a hundred million years.
Saturn is more than 4 billion years old, relatively old compared to the estimated 100-million-year-old rings, which O'Donoghue said may be in its mid-life. These features are made up of ice, rocks, and dust, which are consistently dumped on the planet.
The researchers are also interested in finding out how the 29.4 years of orbit around the sun would affect the quantity of the ring rain. This could vary depending on how much exposure to sunlight Saturn gets, the group said.
Saturn Rings' Origin
Meanwhile, Saturn's rings have become a hot topic among scientists, with some saying that these were formed at the same time with the planet while others suggest the gas giant just got them later. Obviously the latest research favors with the latter.
There were four missions that visited Saturn in the past: Pioneer 11, Voyager 1 and 2, and Cassini. The last one came on the planet in 2004, orbiting and carefully studying everything about the planet for 14 years.