May 27, 2023

The icy inner rings of Saturn are gradually being destroyed in the upper layers of its atmosphere. This has been known to astronomers since the 1980s. However, the questions of how quickly the ring system of a giant planet is decreasing and what exactly determines when the rings can disappear completely still remain open.

Scientists hope that the James Webb Space Telescope will help them find answers at least partially. writes May 2 portal The James Webb Telescope and the Keck Observatory in Hawaii will be part of a long-term observational project to study Saturn. Telescopes will help track how the ring rain phenomenon changes over the course of a full season of the planet, lasting about seven Earth years. This is the name of the process during which ice particles from the rings are attracted to Saturn.

“Studies now show that the rings will be part of Saturn for several hundred million more years,” said Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency planetary scientist James O’Donoghue, who will lead the study. The expert adds: he and his colleagues would like to more accurately “estimate the lifetime” of Saturn’s rings. “We’re trying to figure out how fast they break down,” he explains.

Previous research suggests that Saturn is constantly being bombarded with an impressive amount of the material that makes up its rings. For example, data from the NASA Cassini spacecraft showed that every second Saturn is hit and heated by 400 to 2800 kg of ice rain in its upper atmosphere.

At such rates, the rings may disappear in about 300 million years, scientists believe. However, the rate at which the material of the rings falls onto the giant planet is still largely unclear. According to astronomers, the rings of Saturn can collapse even after 100 million years, and they can exist for 1.1 billion years. The aim of the new study is to narrow this time range.

Previously, researchers have found out how Saturn has rings. According to scientists, the reason for the planetary restructuring was the missing satellite of the planet.

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