Back in 2004, the Cassini spacecraft started to circle Saturn in hopes of gathering as much information as possible about one of the most magnificent planets in our solar system. Based on data picked up by Cassini’s microwave radiometer, the scientific community has concluded that Saturn’s C ring is, in fact, younger than what previous studies suggested.
A team of researchers from the Cornell University located in Ithaca, New York, say that the C ring may be only 100 million years old.
According to the lead author of the study, Zhimeng Zhang, the more dust a Saturn’s ring collects, the older it is. Seeing that the C ring has not collected as much space dust as its counterparts, the researchers say that it is, therefore, younger than the others.
Cassini’s microwave radiometer has been scanning the C ring for heat. Saturn’s rings are mostly made up of ice, according to the scientists. However, the more space dust it collects, the hotter a ring becomes. Consequently, the hotter it is, the longer it has been collecting space dust, meaning that it also is older. Under these circumstances, the C ring is the one who gives off the faintest heat signature.
In order to explain better, Ms. Zhang compares the Saturn rings with a dusty table. She says that if more dust sticks to the table, it means that is has been sitting there for a long time. Hence, a thinner layer of dust means that the table has not been around until recently. She applies the same logic when talking about the formation of the C ring.
Future Exploration Plans
After closely examining the thermal emissions pulled from Cassini’s microwave radiometer, the scientists say that the C ring is only 100 million years old. However, more details will be published on January 1st, 2017 in the journal Icarus.
Furthermore, Cassini will soon complete its mission. Since 2004, it has been closely observing Saturn and its array of moons and rings, providing scientists with valuable pieces of information.
In the future, NASA plans to launch 19 more missions to collect more data on Saturn and its rings. The missions will provide the scientific community with new pictures, perform a wide range of scans, and even try to gather some samples from Saturn’s rings, according to the space agency.
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