NASA has confirmed that the seven distinct rings of Saturn will disappear from view in March 2025, a phenomenon caused by the planet’s rotation on an axis.
Saturn, a gas giant that is 4 billion years old, isn’t the only planet with rings – but it does have the most spectacular and complex ones, according to NASA.
In 2018, NASA said its Voyager 1 and 2 missions confirmed decades ago that Saturn is losing its rings. “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 said.
Saturn’s rings could disappear entirely
The rings are also home to countless icy fragments and are shrouded in a layer of cosmic dust. Their exact age remains a topic of debate, though recent research posits they may be relative newcomers on the cosmic scene, having possibly formed a mere 400 million years ago – making them younger than a tenth of Saturn’s own age.
The so-called “ring rain” produces enough water to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool every half-hour and it could cause Saturn’s rings to disappear in 300 million years, said James O’Donoghue, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
Cassini spacecraft also determined ring material is falling into the planet’s equator, which could cause the rings to disappear even faster – in 100 million years.
A day on Saturn – the amount of time it takes to make one rotation – only lasts 10.7 hours, but it takes about 29.4 Earth years to complete its orbit around the sun. Like Earth, Saturn experiences seasons – this is caused by their rotations on an axis.
Saturn has 145 orbiting moons
Recent scientific findings have unequivocally revealed the presence of an astounding 62 newfound moons encircling Saturn.
Consequently, the grand total of moons orbiting the magnificent ringed planet has skyrocketed to 145. This significant leap forward surpasses the confirmed count of Jupiter’s moons, which currently stands at 95.
For a brief period, Jupiter had outshone Saturn in the moon department, bolstered by the official recognition of 12 additional moons that were discovered encircling it in late December 2022.
Saturn’s moon Enceladus has recently caught the attention of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) by releasing a massive cloud of water vapor. This plume is larger than any previously observed on the moon and may contain the necessary chemicals for life coming from below its icy surface.
Back in 2005, Cassini found icy particles erupting from Enceladus’s subsurface ocean, seeping through cracks in its surface.
However, JWST has revealed that the material is being sprayed much farther into space than previously believed. In fact, it extends many times beyond the actual size of Enceladus itself.