December 22, 2018 - 12:09 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Saturn's rings make it one of the most striking planets in the solar system, but scientists believe they could disappear in less than a 100 million years -- which isn't all that long when you consider that the gas giant itself is more than 4 billion years old, CNN reports.
New research from NASA shows that the rings, made predominantly of water ice, are being pulled apart by the planet's gravity and onto Saturn's surface as deluges of "ring rain."
"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," NASA's James O'Donoghue, lead author of the study, said in a statement.
"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," he added.
The rings are mostly composed of lumps of water ice that vary in size from microscopic grains to boulders of several yards across, the space agency said.
Their origins have long been debated among scientists. Some suggest it was formed around 4 billion years ago -- at the same time as the planet and the rest of the solar system -- but others suggest they surrounded the planet many years after the solar system's birth.
What this study indicates is the rings were formed around the planet less than 100 million years ago. "We are lucky to be around to see Saturn's ring system, which appears to be in the middle of its lifetime," O'Donoghue said.
"However, if rings are temporary, perhaps we just missed out on seeing giant ring systems of Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune, which have only thin ringlets today!"