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Measurements of material transition from Saturn's rings to the planet itself suggest that the rings are likely to disappear in 100 million years.

The Rings of Saturn 
New measurements of material transition from Saturn's rings to the planet itself suggest that the rings are likely to disappear completely in less than 100 million years

The rings around the planet Saturn are one of the most prominent symbols of the solar system, but a new study led by scientists from the US space agency (NASA) reveals that the rings are disappearing at an accelerated rate and may disappear completely within 100 million years - a short time in cosmic terms.


Measurements of material transition from Saturn's rings to the planet itself suggest that the rings are likely to disappear in 100 million years.

Saturn is surrounded by eight main rings, from about 70,000 miles to 170,000 kilometers. The width of the rings can reach thousands of kilometers, but are only 20 meters or less, and are mostly made up of ice crystals of various sizes - some microscopic and others can reach several meters.

Some of the crystals contain dust or simple organic molecules, which give the rings their characteristic shade. The planet itself, like most of the solar system, was formed about 4.5 billion years ago. It is now commonly believed that the rings appeared much later, and in one recent study they determined that they were formed only 100 million years ago, probably from Material that remained after a collision between Saturn's moons. This collision also created the moons that are close to it today.

Among the first spacecraft to approach the planet Saturn were the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft, which passed nearby in the early 1980s. Photographs of these spaceships have brought up an interesting phenomenon: darker regions that look like stripes in Saturn's atmosphere and hemispheres, north and south. NASA scientist Jack Connerney calculated that these lines correspond to the planet's vast magnetic field, and also suggested: ice particles moving electrically to Saturn along the magnetic field, the high concentration of water molecules in the high atmosphere created As a result, it reduces the light response from these areas, so they look darker.


What holds the ice crystals in rings is the balance of power 

on the one hand gravity of Saturn pulling them to him and on the other angular velocity, if it was not, gravity would throw them into space. This balance is sometimes disturbed when tiny crystals are charged with an electrical charge, due to exposure to radiation or the impact of tiny meteorites. The charged particles are affected by the magnetic field, allowing gravity to pull them toward the planet. As they enter the upper part of the atmosphere, the icy water evaporates and reacts with other gases. One result is an increase in the concentration of  H3, H3 consisting of three hydrogen atoms that are missing together one electron. The sun's radiation causes these ions to emit infrared radiation, so that the intensity of the radiation indicates the concentration of H3 in a particular area of ​​the atmosphere.

In the new study, NASA and used the measurements of the giant Keck telescope in Hawaii to track changes in the intensity of this radiation, so they can estimate the rate of water entering Saturn's atmosphere from the phenomenon called "rain rings" That is, the attraction of ice crystals from the rings to the planet, and they recognized that the phenomenon did occur along Saturn's magnetic field lines, and found that its circumference was at the upper end of the range NASA calculated more than 30 years ago.

According to their data, each second Saturn loses between 432 and 2,870 kilograms of water, which flows into its atmosphere. "It's possible to fill an Olympic pool every half an hour with this amount of water, At this rate, the entire ring system will disappear in less than 300 million years, but if we add the measurements of the Cassini spacecraft, then the rings will have less than 100 million years."


The Cassini probe probed Saturn, its rings and moons for about 13 years, until it ended its mission with a deliberate crash into it last year. A few months ago, new findings were published summarizing the data carried out by the spacecraft, among other things, the planet also collects material from the rings in another mechanism at a rate of about 10,000 kilograms per second.

Another finding of the current research team was a passage indicating the passage of water in the meeting area between Saturn's magnetic field and the lunar orbit of Enceladus. It is estimated that there is an ocean of liquid water beneath the outer ice layer of Enceladus. Some of that water emitted into space from active geysers, and it seems that this water also reaches the atmosphere of Saturn itself in a mechanism similar to the rain rings.

One of the challenges researchers are now exploring is the changes in the rate of rain rings during the Saturn seasons. The planet completes one round 
around the Sun every 29 years of Earth, so it takes a long follow-up to measure the seasonal changes in rainfall and dispersion. According to current findings most of the water reaches the southern hemisphere, but this may be a temporary picture.

We are lucky to see Saturn's ring system in our time, which is probably about half of its current life.

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