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Close up data from NASA Cassini reveals exact age of Saturn rings
NASA might have found the real age of the Saturn rings.
According to a new analysis of the data sent by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, the rings around Saturn might have appeared much later than the planet was born. The findings hint that the rings were formed between 10 million and 100 million years ago. This also means that Saturn's rings were formed during the dinosaur age on Earth.
As for Saturn, the planet was formed in the early years of our solar system, which is around 4.5 billion years ago. The determine the exact age of the rings the scientists needed to measure the mass of the rings or the amount of material the comprise of.
Scientists used the remote-sensing measurements from Cassini and both of NASA's Voyager spacecraft in the early 1980s. It was then merged with the close-up data from Cassini's final orbits in 2017. The spacecraft managed to dive between the planet and the rings 22 times before running out of fuel.
These dives helped Cassini to act as a probe, feeling the tug between the rings and the planet after falling into its gravity field. The researchers were able to determine the size of the planet and the rings after knowing the amount of gravity that was pulling the spacecraft.
"Only by getting so close to Saturn in Cassini's final orbits were we able to gather the measurements to make the new discoveries," said Cassini radio science team member and lead author Luciano Iess, of Sapienza University of Rome. "And with this work, Cassini fulfills a fundamental goal of its mission: not only to determine the mass of the rings but to use the information to refine models and determine the age of the rings."