Saturn’s iconic rings are disappearing and if scientists’ estimations are correct, they will all be gone within the next 100 million years.
We are currently at a point in human history where we aren’t only aware of all the other planets and entities in our solar system, but we have sent probes to find out more about them. In fact, as of last month, NASA has actually sent two probes beyond our solar system. Voyager 2 recently became only the second ever manmade object to reach interstellar space.
Back to the worlds much closer to us and most of them are different and unique. Perhaps the most unique of all the planets in our solar system is the gas giant, Saturn. It is certainly the easiest to recognize. That’s because of the iconic rings circling it. They are actually made of ice and are formed of countless small pieces of water ice and rock.
It makes for a pretty beautiful phenomenon, but apparently, it won’t be one we can admire forever. Saturn’s rings are disappearing and according to Sky News, scientists predict that within 100 million years they will be completely gone. That might seem like a long time to you and me, but when you consider Saturn was formed around four billion years ago, a measly 100 million years isn’t long at all.
So where are Saturn’s rings going? Well, for once, it isn’t our fault. The icy rings are gradually being pulled into the planet by gravity. NASA’s James O’Donoghue estimates that the rings are being pulled in and turned to rain at a rate that could fill an Olympic sized swimming pool every half an hour. When you consider it will still take 100 million years to deplete Saturn’s rings entirely, that should give you an idea of how much ice is orbiting the planet right now.
What scientists still can’t be sure of is how Saturn got its rings in the first place. Some argue the planet was formed with them, while the more likely hypothesis is that it picked them up along the way. If so, we are extremely lucky to have witnessed Saturn’s rings at all. It would also suggest that other planets’ ring systems, such as Neptune’s, may have been a lot more elaborate millions of years ago.