Space truly is the final frontier. Once we develop technology to start exploring outer space more efficiently than we are now, there will be pretty much nowhere else to go except for the infinity of the Universe. But things are far more complicated that we thought. A team of astrophysicists discovered yet another mistake they’ve been making for decades, as Saturn’s B ring used optical illusion to appear less dense.
Scientists have been wrong for decades
For decades, researchers have been operating under the premise that the brightest and densest of Saturn’s rings – the B ring, to be more exact – were also the largest, while the least transparent rings were also the smallest.
This led them to form multiple now obviously incorrect theories, such as estimating the rings’ ages, which is now definitely wrong, since the heavier the ring is, the longer it would take for it to be formed.
And the scientists didn’t really have any reasons to doubt their old beliefs, as looking at a shining star through Saturn’s rings helped them determine the rings’ densities and their ages. But it turns out that it was an optical illusion, as revealed by the NASA’s Cassini mission going through there.
Cassini reveals Saturn’s optical illusion
As the Cassini space craft passed near Saturn’s rings, scientists from NASA developed an equation to help them measure the planet’s spiral density waves from inside the rings. As they received the data, decades of science proved incorrect.
By comparing the data from the planet’s rings, the team discovered that they both had roughly the same weight. Despite speculating that it might have something to do with the sizes and densities of the individual particles, the researchers are unsure of how different regions with the same amount of material can have different opacities.
Since we now have the correct weight of the B ring for the first time, we can finally start working on figuring out the proper ages of the rings, and hopefully the answer to one of science’s oldest mysteries – how they were formed.
Because of the incorrectly perceived density, the data researchers had on the formation of the rings might be off by at least a few hundred million years, making them far younger than previously believed.
To exemplify the optical illusion created by the rings, one of the study’s co-authors chose a particularly interesting comparison. A clear pool seems far less opaque than a misty meadow, but the pool is far denser and has a lot more water than the meadow.
Image source: Wikimedia