NASA Confirms Saturns Rings Will Be Gone in 100 Million Years

New NASA research confirms that Saturn is losing its iconic rings at the maximum rate estimated from Voyager 1 & 2 observations made decades ago. The rings are being pulled into Saturn by gravity as a dusty rain of ice particles under the influence of Saturn’s magnetic field.

“We estimate that this ‘ring rain’ drains an amount of water products that could fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool from Saturn’s rings in half an hour,” said James O’Donoghue of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “From this alone, the entire ring system will be gone in 300 million years, but add to this the Cassini-spacecraft measured ring-material detected falling into Saturn’s equator, and the rings have less than 100 million years to live. This is relatively short, compared to Saturn’s age of over 4 billion years.” O’Donoghue is lead author of a study on Saturn’s ring rain appearing in Icarus December 17.

18 thoughts on “NASA Confirms Saturns Rings Will Be Gone in 100 Million Years”

  1. It’s possible we’re seeing them in their youth, after a massive collision in close orbit around Saturn. That would explain the anomalous heat flow in Enceladus – it would no longer be anomalous, as Enceladus could be less than a billion years or so old.

  2. Yet another global warming scaremongering article! Saturn ring rain, elevated ocean levels on Earth, polar bears, and Io’s sulphuric eruptions. It’s all connected, and Exxon’s fault. We should tax water and send it to Saturn to save the rings!
    Merry Christmas y’all!

  3. If you just look at Voyager data yes they will be con in 100million years. However if you look at Voyager and Cassini data the rings will last a lot longer. Probably billions of years.

    The material in the rings comes from the geysers on Enceladus. A large amount of salt water from the moon’s subsurface ocean is being ejected to space. and some feeds the rings. approximately 300Kg of water per second is erupting from the surface of the moon. That was not known when the voyager probes passed the planet.

  4. It’s really a combination of both inertia and the gravitational variation you describe. The reason the water rises on the low gravity side is because of inertia. At least, that’s what the NOAA site says.

    You can sort of think of this in terms of orbital mechanics. Less gravity => higher orbit for the same tangential velocity.

    Though I have to admit, I still don’t fully understand how that produces two bulges. In the middle area, the Lunar pull is sort of sideways, so most of the “down” pull is from Earth anyway. Earth’s pull is the same on the side opposite the Moon, but there the Moon is also pulling in the same direction, so it should add up more. Thus, my non-mathematical intuition tells me it should be an egg shape, with lowest tide opposite the Moon.

    Maybe it’s because the water picks up more speed as it rotates and comes down towards the middle area, so it has more inertia to fight gravity on the opposite side? So a dynamic vs static result – if it was static, you’d get the egg shape?

    I haven’t read up on the Solar contribution, but I expect it doesn’t explain semidiurnal tides. As I recall, it’s associated with the seasonal variation of tide strength.

  5. The Earth-mooon-sun system is like that for a reason. Something something promising resonance something something

  6. Not inertia as such: The Moon is close enough that its gravity drops off substantially across the diameter of the Earth. On the side facing the Moon you get a high tide because the water is closer to the Moon than the center of the Earth, and thus is pulled harder than the Earth as a whole.

    On the opposite side you get a high tide because the water is farther from the Moon than the center of the Earth, and thus isn’t pulled as hard in the direction of the Moon, (Down!) as the Earth as a whole is.

    You’re of course going to get separate lunar and solar tides, and they’re not synchronized, so sometimes you’ve got 4 tides, sometimes 2 as they synch up. I suppose you might also get local sloshing, which simulates extra tides.

  7. This is the equivalent of dynamiting a disappearing glacier to make a parking lot a few years before it disappears anyway.

  8. It kind of begs the induction…

    What must the rings have looked like 100 million, 250 million, and 3,300 million years ago? If they’re going to “evaporate” in the next 0.1 billion years, and if they’ve supposedly been around more-or-less (unconfirmed) since the beginning of the Solar System some 4.7 billion years ago, well … they’re at only 2% left of their original unevaporated mass. 

    That’d make ’em REALLY thick and big.  

    I’d take even odds that Science hasn’t yet figured ’em out well enough. That the rings — while presently evaporating at a furious rate — haven’t always done so, and moreover might not in the future either.  

    For instance, since the hypothetical driver is magnetic field energy loss lending to rapidly degrading orbits of the innermost ring particles (where “particle” could be as little as a mote of dust, or as large as a football pitch), who’s to say that Saturn’s magnetic fields are near-constant?  Might they — like our (in)famous Sol — also periodically oscillate? Or disappear altogether for millions of years? Who’d know? How’d we evidence it?  

    Just saying,

  9. You know NASA is lying….right? It’s so obvious that all the pictures they show us are fake. It’s pseudoscience. Wake up!

  10. Better to usefully harvest those rings to send their water ice and ammonia ice to the Moon or Mars (maybe even Venus?). Perhaps their material could even be used to construct large O’Neill type orb colonies.

  11. They could always be artificially maintained by importing comets from the Kuiper belt, if the local tourist board thinks it’s worth it.

    Seriously, it’s an age of cosmic coincidences; We also live at the moment when the Moon and the Sun subtend the same angle from the surface of the Earth, leading to really spectacular eclipses. Wasn’t always the case, and won’t continue to be the case.

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