(WTAJ) — Saturn is a visual marvel in our solar system, but how did it get those awe-inspiring rings? Well, NASA might have an answer for that.
On a clear night, even a decent amateur telescope can find Saturn and show its illustrious rings. But the question will always be “How did the rings form?”
A new series of NASA supercomputer simulations might just have the answer. In fact, they believe the rings were formed back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.
The latest NASA research, including their partners, believe that Saturn’s rings evolved from two icy moons that smashed into each other and shattered a few hundred million years ago. Some of the debris may have even combined to create some of Saturn’s 145 moons (that we know of so far).
NASA released a video showing what they believe might have caused Saturn’s rings. You can watch it on YouTube by clicking here.
“There’s so much we still don’t know about the Saturn system, including its moons that host environments that might be suitable for life,” said Jacob Kegerreis, a research scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. “So, it’s exciting to use big simulations like these to explore in detail how they could have evolved.”
NASA’s Cassini mission made scientists question just how young Saturn’s rings, and some moons, might actually be. This opened up new questions about how everything formed around Saturn.
Saturn’s rings currently live in what is called the “Roche limit” — the farthest orbit where a planet’s gravity is powerful enough to tear apart potential larger bodies and keep them in orbit. Beyond that, these materials could have formed moons.
Scientists simulated nearly 200 versions of the impact and found a wide range of scenarios that would scatter the right amount of ice into Saturn’s Roche limit, creating those iconic rings.
This would explain why Saturn’s rings are made of almost entirely ice chunks.
“This scenario naturally leads to ice-rich rings,” said Vincent Eke, Associate Professor in the Department of Physics/Institute for Computational Cosmology, at Durham University and a co-author on the paper. “When the icy progenitor moons smash into one another, the rock in the cores of the colliding bodies is dispersed less widely than the overlying ice.”