April 21, 2019
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Science & Technology

New study says Saturn's rings younger than planet

Washington, Jan 18 (efe-epa).- Saturn's rings did not form at the same time as the planet they encircle but are instead much younger, according to a new study released 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.

"The rings of Saturn are only 10 to 100 million years old, much younger than Saturn's age of 4.5 billion years," the AAAS report said.

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

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

During its fiery Grand Finale phase, the spacecraft's orbit was programmed to dive between the planet and the rings, in ever-tighter-orbits, before plummeting into the giant gas planet's 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 planet's 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 Saturn's rings, and hence their age.

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