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Solve the mystery of Saturn’s rings after 4 centuries

Saturn isn’t the only ring planet in our solar system, but its belt of ice and dust is by far the most amazing. And a new study published this Thursday 15, in the magazine SciencesExplains how and when the planet’s rings formed. The research offers a solution to a mystery that has baffled astronomers since Galileo raised his telescope and first observed Saturn in 1610.

The rings formed between 100 million and 200 million years ago when one of Saturn’s moons came close to its path by another moon, and was torn apart by gravitational forces. Debris from the hypothetical moon, dubbed Chrysalis, remained in Saturn’s orbit. Over time, it has flattened into the disk of particles we see today.

The thickness of the rings is only 9 meters in some places, but their diameter is 270 thousand kilometers. Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune also have rings, but they are smaller, darker, and fainter.

For many years, scientists believed that Saturn’s rings formed more than 4 billion years ago, when the young planet’s strong gravitational field seized slowly passing comets and asteroids and flattened them into rings. However, on two space missions, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has opposed this idea. NASA observations revealed that the mass and composition of the rings was much smaller than previously thought.

The solution came after analyzing data from the space agency’s missions that upended the old thesis about the relationships between Saturn and its moons and Neptune. Scientists believed that Saturn and Neptune were in a state of resonance, which means that they were interacting by means of gravity. But the analysis showed that a young moon must have disrupted the resonance when the gravitational forces exerted by another moon, Titan, pushed it spirally toward Saturn.

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As evidenced by a report published by The Wall Street JournalThe scientific community will need time to review the new research. However, this idea brings scientists closer to solving the mysteries of Saturn.