Saturn Moons And Rings Younger Than The Dinosaurs, New Study Says

Posted: Mar 25 2016, 10:43am CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

Saturn Moons and Rings Younger Than the Dinosaurs, New Study Says
The new paper finds that Saturn's moon Rhea and all other moons and rings closer to Saturn may be only 100 million years old. Outer satellites (not pictured here), including Saturn's largest moon Titan, are probably as old as the planet itself. Credit:NASA/JPL
  • Satellites of Saturn may have preceded the Giant Lizards that Once Ruled the Earth

The satellites of Saturn (Titan comes to mind) may have preceded the giant lizards that once ruled the earth on the timeline.

Not only the icy moons of Saturn but also its beautiful halo-like rings may be hundreds of millions of years old. They probably precede the dinosaurs on the time scale.

The moons transform their orbital axes and this is normal fare. This fact alone allows researchers to form computer simulations of the moons in order to better predict some of their historical changes. These features were probably created during the initial 2% history of the planet’s formation.

“Moons are always changing their orbits. That’s inevitable,” says Matija Cuk, principal investigator at the SETI Institute. “But that fact allows us to use computer simulations to tease out the history of Saturn’s inner moons. Doing so, we find that they were most likely born during the most recent two percent of the planet’s history.”

Saturn’s rings are the most prominent feature of the gorgeous planet. They are the marked sign that differentiates the planet from the rest of the heavenly bodies of the solar system.

They were seen for the first time in the year 1600. Yet the controversy surrounding their exact age remained extant until modern times. The assumption that they were as old as the planet was the commonsense quotable quote. Saturn is four billion years old.

However, in 2012, the tidal effects on Saturn were noted down by French astronomers. The moons and rings turned out to be much more recent phenomena.

While earth’s moon has the planet all to itself and it circles it regularly, Saturn’s moons have to contend with each other for space around the planet with a halo.

The orbits grow due to tidal effects. However the rate of growth is different for each one. Orbital resonance often occurs and this is of chief interest to scientists.

When one moon’s orbital period is a mere fraction of another moon’s period, we get orbital resonance as a resultant factor. Even the smaller moons have an influence on the larger ones. They cause tilting and elongation.

Via a comparison between present orbital tilts and computer simulations, the growth rates of Saturn’s moon orbits were calculated. For some of the moons these calculations are not much.

As for the question regarding the formation of the moons and the rings, the team of researchers employed data from the Cassini probe to find the answer. Ice geysers on Enceladus provided a few clues. This geothermal energy comes from tidal interactions.

The answer that was forthcoming showed that the rings and moons date back to the Cretaceous Period on earth when the dinosaurs ruled the roost. From the rubble of some of the inner moons, the rings were formed later on.

“So the question arises, what caused the recent birth of the inner moons?” asks Cuk. “Our best guess is that Saturn had a similar collection of moons before, but their orbits were disturbed by a special kind of orbital resonance involving Saturn’s motion around the Sun. Eventually, the orbits of neighboring moons crossed, and these objects collided. From this rubble, the present set of moons and rings formed.”

If this is true, the rings could actually date back to an era just before the Age of the Dinosaurs.

The research was published in the Astrophysical Journal.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/20" rel="author">Sumayah Aamir</a>
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