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  HOME | Science, Nature & Technology

New Study Says Saturnís Rings Younger than Planet

WASHINGTON Ė Saturnís rings did not form at the same time as the planet they encircle but are instead much younger, according to a new study released on Friday by a United States scientific association.

The report published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science based on data supplied by the Cassinni spacecraft that measured the gravitational field around Saturn and its rings, delved into the internal structure, winds, mass, and age of the rings.

The findings were that while Saturn was formed during the early stage of the Solar System, its rings are much younger.

ďThe rings of Saturn are only 10 to 100 million years old, much younger than Saturnís age of 4.5 billion years,Ē the AAAS report said.

The scientific team led by Luciano Less of Romeís Sapienza University said the data did not indicate how the ring system formed so recently.

During most of its mission, Cassinniís orbit remained outside the Saturn ringsí region, meaning the gravitational effects of the rings could not be disentangled from those of the planet.

During its fiery Grand Finale phase, the spacecraftís orbit was programmed to dive between the planet and the rings, in ever-tighter-orbits, before plummeting into the giant gas planetís atmosphere and collecting first-time measurements of its atmosphere.

The data provided a more accurate gravity field for the planet that deviates from prior theoretical predictions.

Less and his colleagues said this could be explained by the planetís so-called differential rotation, or the way different parts of it move at different rates of rotation, depending on depth.

The researchers used the gravity data to determine the total mass of Saturnís rings, and hence their age.

 

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