There is an amazing object on the sky and that is Saturn and Saturn Rings and that is so amazing because it has beautiful rings around it. But how did these Saturn rings from and how long will they remain around it?
Real Lord of the Saturn Rings
There are very few things about which it is said that they change lives. I have met people several times who said, after seeing Saturn for the first time through a telescope their lives changed or they developed a fondness for astronomy or they decided to obtain a degree in Astronomy. And actually, if you look above towards Saturn without a telescope, it will look like a normal star.
Although it is a planet, it will look like a star. But even with a small telescope you can see its rings around it.
The picture you are seeing was taken by Shoaib Usman from Lahore and this tells you the beauty of Saturn. By the way, nowadays there is a good opportunity in the evening of the sunset. You can also see its rings with the naked eye on 27 or 28 August 2023 because on this day night Saturn one more round complete around Sun and it will closest to the Earth. You can also see Jupiter which is presently very bright and also Saturn.
So please, if you get a telescope or get a chance to see through a telescope see the Saturn rings definitely. No amount of appreciation of the Saturn rings is enough. Factually the Lord of the rings is Saturn (Saturn rings).
This is one of my favorite picture. This is not possible from earth. The reason is this picture was taken by Cassini spacecraft and the Sun is behind it. The Cassini spacecraft was in the shadow Saturn and the Sun is brightening up its rings. This picture was taken on 19th July 2013 and the main thing is you can see some other dots also in it. Out of these dots some are the moons of Saturn.
Then there is Mars and Venus also, and in one corner (if you see carefully) there is a small planet Earth and its moon also.
In fact, we do not have a close up, otherwise if you would see the picture with a very good telescope you would have seen many people waving their hands. Because that day 19th July 2013 NASA had a mission asking people to come out (when the picture was being taken), wave towards Saturn because Cassini spacecraft was about to take a picture. So this was only a joke.
But this picture is very beautiful and reminds us once again that our planet is a dot which Carl Sagan once said ‘Pale Blue Dot’ so you are seeing this pale blue dot from Saturn. The rings of Saturn were first seen by Gallileo in 1610 through his telescope.
Discovery of Saturn Rings
The rings of Saturn were first seen by Gallileo in 1610 through his telescope. How did not know these were rings. He thought these were moons around to side of Saturn. But and other natural philosophy Christiaan Hugyens in 1965 proposed for the first time that the Saturn rings you are seeing are actually rings and not moons, and are a little away from the main planet meaning they are not attached to the planet.
That is why Cassini spacecraft which went near Saturn and when it sent a probe into Titan, a moon of Saturn, the name of probe was Hugyens probe. By the way, check out another article in which Titan (an interesting moon of Saturn) the lakes or rivers in it.
What are the Saturn Ring Made up of?
Now I will show you many pictures of the Saturn rings because they are very beautiful and very interesting.
But it seems, if you have a casual look at it, these Saturn rings are solid this is not so.
They are made of very small particles of ice. They are micro meter in size, in meters or they can be house sized boulders but mostly made of ice.
Now, you are seeing a graphic this is not a real picture in which it is shown sometimes these ice particles clump together. There are small particles and clumps and all of them are orbiting Saturn. One more surprising thing is the Saturn rings are very thin.
Normally if you see a paper from a side you say the paper edge is very narrow but the Saturn rings, ratio wise, are hundred times thinner even than the paper edge. Why am I saying this? Because the the thickness or the height of the Saturn rings is about 10 to 20 meters. Even the maximum height is about 1 km.
The man rings are generally 10 to 20 meters, only 10 to 20 meters thick but their spread is 3 lac kilometers. Just imagine the highest only 10 to 20 meters and 3 lac km its width.
In the sense it is very amazing. In fact Saturn, there is a tilt Saturn about 27°. Sometimes these rings according to our eyesight are edge on and when they are edge on they are absolutely not visible to us.
There are gaps also in the rings. You are seeing a close up of the Saturn rings taken by Cassini spacecraft. Let me tell you something here. Some letters designate these Saturn rings, but they are not in a sequence because they are according to their discovery.
This means A was discovered first, then B then C but they are not according to their distance from Saturn. But we understand why material is not present in the gaps or some rings and about some other we do not know yet. But I want to highlight the gap in ring A because it is astonishing.
Here is a small moon or Saturn named Daphnis. And you are saying the switch is present inside Saturn rings and because of that the space of the ring is empty. Behind it you are seeing something wavelike because of the gravity of the moon (it is only 8 km) some particles of Saturn go towards it and when it passes away, they go back to the rings.
This morning was discovered by Cassini spacecraft and I think this is an amazing thing. If even know you were not convinced that the Saturn rings are amazing at least after seeing this picture this Daphnis this moon in the gap of the rings maybe your mind will change.
How did the Saturn Rings Form?
Now how did this rings system of Saturn from?
Scientists up till now had thought that Saturn and its rings were formed along with the formation of our solar system, 4.5 billion years ago. But the measurement of Cassini spacecraft has started getting some doubts about this things and there are several things about Saturn which are odd. As I mentioned earlier Saturn has a tilt of 27°. And it is not easy to tilt these big gas giants.
Uranus by the way is laying fully on one side. The idea is at the beginning of our solar system something big hit it which tilted it by 98°.
Earth has a tilt of 23 1/2° because of which there are seasons on earth. The idea is this tilt happened due to collision may be the same collision in which the moon was formed. But it is difficult to explain that 27° tilt of Saturn because Saturn is very big.
One explanation was because of Titan, the big moons maybe because of their drag it gradually tilted. Our moon also maintains the tilt of our earth. But when Cassini spacecraft took some measurements (and again these are complicated), it was found that Titan the largest moon of Saturn is slowly moving away from Saturn.
Now it was expected that its speed of moving away would be slow but what Cassini spacecraft measured, its speed was about 14 cm per year. This speed seems to be slow, your hair grow many times faster than that but this speed of Titan is 100 times more than the expected speed, according to its tilt.
Then how do we explain what was the reason for the 27° tilt of Saturn. There was another problem. The Saturn are very white and very clear. If they had been (present) 4.5 billion years the ideas is micrometeorites, you can call it dirt, would have crashed on it and more dirt or dust would have been there.
This dust is present on the moons of Jupiter, Uranus, Neptune etc but it is not match in the Saturn rings. Because of this also it was assumed that these rings are relatively new.
Destruction of Saturn Moon
A few months before new study has been published. Which has made new models according to wish there was another big moon around Saturn. This was about 1,500 km bigger, was away from Titan’s orbit meaning further from Saturn and its size was compare able to enter the moon of Saturn ‘IAPETUS’
Scientist named this moon ‘CHRYSALIS’ and the idea is this moon was mostly made of ice and it was orbiting Saturn. Because of it and Titan the tilt became 27°. But its orbit orbit farther from Saturn. And it also has gradually moving away and at one time its orbit came in the resonance of Titan.
We don’t need to go into complication of resonance. It only means that in the time the moon Chrysalis completed one orbit Titan completed two or three. Because of that, just like when you are pushing someone on a swing, then it is about to go again its speed goes on increasing.
Similarly it is assumed when it came into the resonance of Titan the model predicated that this other moon Chrysalis which was very big would eject from the system but the model predicated this is also possible that the moon went near Saturn.
When the moon reaches the Saturn’s gravity there is one thing called Roche limit. If you come inside it the gravity on the inner side of the moon is so much more compared to the outer side that the moon breaks into pieces. That is why no big moon is present in the Roche limit of Saturn.
And this moon Chrysalis because was mostly made of ice the idea is its rocky core fell into Saturn and the rest of the surface etc became rings. And the models predict that the destruction of chrysalis occurred 100 million to 200 million years ago.
This is consistent with the fact of the rings being relatively clear and the presence Chrysalis also explained that 27° tilt of Saturn. An example of a good model is that it should not explain only one thing rather it should be able to explain 3 or 4 other things. Is this correct? don’t know. Many tests will be carried out about this but I think this is a very compelling midel.
How long will the rings last?
Cassini mission ended in 2017 and before that astronomers sent this Cassini spacecraft into astonishing orbits, when it past between the planet and its rings. And then it was eventually crashed basically into Saturn (intentionally) as they did not want it to contaminate the interesting moons (for life) as Enceladus or Titan by accidentally pressing on it.
But when Cassini spacecraft passed through the gap between the Saturn rings and planet it took measurements of how much materials of the rings is falling into Saturn and the calculations showed it was in large quantity. Through that astronomers can find out how long will this rings stay.
The estimate now is, the Saturn rings, the material around it will finish after 300 million years. And I said Saturn is visible nowadays in the evening. Harry up. After 300 million years these rings, their amazing features will finish in our solar system in a sense will remain after that a little less interesting.