California, Jan 18: The rings of Saturn’s maybe iconic, but there was a time when the majestic gas giant existed without its distinctive halo.
But according to a new analysis of NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, the rings may have formed much later than the planet itself. As per this new finding, Saturn’s rings formed between 10 million and 100 million years ago.
So this means, Saturn’s rings may have formed during the age of Dinosaurs.
NASA’s Cassini was taking measurements around Saturn and rings and building on a connection between the mass of the rings and their age. As per law, lower mass points to a younger age, because the rings, which are bright and mostly made of ice, would have been contaminated and darkened by interplanetary debris over a longer period. With a better calculation of ring mass, scientists were better able to estimate the rings’ age.
Cassini orbiter crossing Saturn’s rings, new measurements of the rings mass give scientists the best answer yet to the question of their age.
Saturn scientists will continue work to figure out how the rings formed. The new evidence of young rings lends credence to theories that they formed from a comet that wandered too close and was torn apart by Saturn's gravity - or by an event that broke up an earlier generation of icy moons.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency.