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Bad Astronomy

Saturn's rings are way younger than the planet itself… and they're disappearing.

21 Jan 2019, 14:00 UTC
Saturn's rings are way younger than the planet itself… and they're disappearing.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Saturn is a pretty weird place, full of mysteries that seem to multiply the more we investigate them. One of the biggest is literally one of the biggest things Saturn has: Its rings. Surprisingly, despite them being the single most obvious and iconic feature of the planet, we don’t know the answers to two basic questions about them: How old are they, and how did they form?

But now, using data from the Cassini spacecraft and applying them to subtle models of the planet, scientists have determined an important fact about the rings: They’re young. Very young, far younger than the planet. While Saturn formed something like 4.5 billion years ago, the rings are likely no older than 100 million years.

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