NASA says Saturn's rings are disappearing at 'alarming speed'

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Decades ago, when the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft flew past Saturn, giving us our first close-up look at this fantastic planet, scientists used the data the probes sent back to discover that the wide rings surrounding it were raining down into the planet's upper atmosphere.

"We gauge that this "ring rain" depletes an amount of water products that could fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool from Saturn's rings in 30 minutes", NASA's James O'Donoghue, lead author of the research, said in an announcement. Initially, experts estimated that the eye-catching feature of Saturn will be gone in 300 million years, but as observed by the Cassini mission, the bands are looking at just a hundred million years.

"Be that as it may, if rings are impermanent, maybe we simply passed up observing goliath ring frameworks of Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune, which have just thin curls today!" included Mr O'Donoghue.

An artist's impression of how Saturn may look in the next 100m years.

NASA has put together a nice video of the interaction of the rings with the planet to give more detail.

If O'Donoghue is right about the 100 million-year timeline, humanity should be grateful that we came along now, in time to see the rings before they're gone.

Of all the planets in our Solar System, you'd have to agree that Saturn is the most immediately recognizable. Their material is drawn to the gas giant's gravity and magnetic fields. However, the particles which make up the rings continuously rain down on the planet, causing them to gradually fade. Some suggest it was formed around 4 billion years ago - at the same time as the planet and the rest of the solar system - but others suggest they surrounded the planet many years after the solar system's birth.

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If this continues happening, the Saturn will lose its ring in next 100 million years.

If the recent-formation scenario is true, that means Saturn had no rings when giant sauropod dinosaurs roamed the Earth during the Jurassic. There, the particles melt, creating a visible shining band of electrically charged ions. Its last orbits of the region between the planet and its rings detected ring rain at the equator falling a lot quicker than recently thought.

Saturn is famous for its vast, icy rings, but the latest research shows they are rapidly being sucked into the planet by its powerful gravitational field.

The influx of water from the rings washed away the stratospheric haze, making it appear dark and producing the narrow dark bands captured in the Voyager images.

This comes months after research released in October - which used data from the Cassini spacecraft recorded before it plunged into the planet's atmosphere in 2017 after 20 years of observation- found that "ring rain" was like a "downpour".

The research was funded by NASA and the NASA Postdoctoral Program at NASA Goddard, administered by the Universities Space Research Association.

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