Data from the Cassini spacecraft show that the gas giant didn’t always have its iconic icy bands
JPL-Caltech/NASA, Space Science Institute
NEW ORLEANS — Saturn’s iconic rings are a recent addition. Final data from the Cassini spacecraft, which flew between the planet and the rings this year before plunging into the gas giant’s atmosphere, show the rings are around a few hundred million years old and less massive than previously thought.
Those findings suggest the rings are probably the remnants of at least one moon, rather than ancient remains of the stuff that formed the planet. The results were presented at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union on December 12 and 13.
For decades, scientists puzzled over the age and origins of Saturn’s rings (SN: 11/12/16, p. 10). If the rings had formed with Saturn some 4 billion years ago, a constant bombardment of debris from the more distant solar system should make the icy bands appear darker than they do. But scientists