New study reveals Saturn didn’t always have rings, it was once ringless
Washington, Jan 22: A new study now suspect that the iconic hula-hoop of icy particles encircling Saturn is a relatively new addition.
Scientists have used this last information to make the first accurate estimate of the amount of material in the planet's rings, and it is about 40 percent of the mass of Saturn's moon Mimas. Mimas is already 2,000 times smaller than Earth's moon.
The Cassini spacecraft that was orbiting Saturn is no more, but before it expired it took a loop between the planet and its rings, acting as a gravity probe and uncovering data about the composition of the rings.
This indicates that Saturn's distinctive rings are a relatively recent development as ring mass is correlated with ring age, meaning that the rings are certainly less than 100 million years old and perhaps as young as 10 million years old.
Scientists had debated whether the rings were formed from icy debris at the same time as the planet, 4.5 billion years ago, or whether the rings were younger and were formed when Saturn's gravity captured a comet or a Kuiper Belt object and pulverized it into rocks which orbited the planet. Now the evidence is in that Saturn was ring-less for a considerable time after its formation, and the rings were a later addition.