They represent the most iconic element of the solar system, but how and when the rings of Saturn were formed remained a mystery for centuries.
Now, a piece of the puzzle has been revealed: astronomers believe that the gravitational attraction of Saturn's smaller moons probably shaped and "carved" the rings, according to new research, which details the unfolding of the sculpture.
The rings themselves are made up of small particles of ice and rocks and, according to NASA, would be pieces of comets, asteroids or broken moons that would have broken before reaching the planet. It's exactly how they turned into rings that remains the mystery.
The new discoveries are based on data and hundreds of thousands of photos sent by NASA's Cassini spacecraft as it circled around the planet in 2017, shortly before its cremation in the atmosphere of Saturn. Nearly two years after the end of the mission, researchers are still releasing new studies that attempt to better understand the characteristics based on data collected by the spacecraft, according to Space.com.
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"By getting closer to the rings, by obtaining higher resolution images …, we are starting to have new views, some of the best ever seen on the dynamics and evolution of what is happening in Saturn's rings. ", said Linda Spilker of NASA. said Space.com.
According to NASA, textures and patterns, from mass to straw, emerge from the images. New images also reveal how colors, chemistry and temperatures change through the rings.
"These new details on how moons carve rings in different ways open a window to the formation of the solar system, where records also evolve under the influence of masses embedded in them," said Matt Tiscareno. , senior author of the study and researcher at Cassini, SETI Institute.
The rings also formed much later than the planet. In fact, the rings are "relatively new," scientists said, probably forming less than 100 million years ago and perhaps only 10 million years ago.
Saturn itself is some 4.5 billion years old, the same age as all the other planets in our solar system. This means that, for most of its existence, Saturn probably had no great rings.
"The results strongly suggest that the rings of Saturn are much younger than Saturn itself and provide important clues about the origin of the rings and moons," said Shigeru Ida of the Institute of Technology's Tokyo, in a journal accompanying the new study.
As for why Saturn has rings, "there is no clear reason why Saturn is so special that way," said Tiscareno in an email to UNITED STATES TODAY & # 39; HUI. "One possible answer is that Saturn is actually not special, but is simply the lucky planet that has rings at the moment we live."
The final answer to the formation of Saturn's rings – which has fascinated astronomers for hundreds of years – remains, however, to come: "A clear answer to the long question of when and how the formed rings of Saturn have not yet obtained, but Cassini data provide important pieces of the puzzle, "said Ida.
The new study was published in a peer-reviewed journal Science, publication of the American Association for the Progress of Science.
– United States today