Saturn’s iconic rings have remained one of the greatest wonders that amazes every skygazer observing the Universe. However, scientists have proposed several theories on how Saturn’s iconic rings came into existence. A recent study suggests that a massive moon collision between two ancient icy moons that may have once traveled around Saturn could have given the planet its iconic rings.
Saturn is no stranger to housing moons.. Astronomers have discovered that the most ringed planet in the solar system accommodates 145 known moons. Astronomers behind this study suggest that it occurred millions of years ago. This implies that the dinosaurs were around while the iconic rings were forming around the gas giant.
How astronomers conducted the new study about the moon collision forming iconic Saturn rings
Scientists used the data obtained by NASA’s Cassini mission that traveled around the orbit of Saturn between 2004 and 2017 to conduct this study. The researchers studied dozens of computer simulations based on the obtained data to suggest that they may have discovered a more accurate answer to the origin of Saturn’s rings.
While conducting its 13-year mission around Saturn, the Cassini space probe discovered the unique materials that make up the ring. These materials include icy fragments that have remained unpolluted by space dust. Based on this discovery, scientists realized that the iconic rings of Saturn may be only a few million years old. This implies that the ring system was not formed alongside Saturn about 4.5 billion years ago.
What the team discovered
The team behind this study consists of researchers from NASA and Durham University in the U.K. They collaboratively suggest that the rings of Saturn may have been created from a recent collision of two ancient icy moons of the gas giant. They deployed the potential of sophisticated supercomputers to simulate about 200 different scenarios that could have caused the moon collision. The outcome of the study suggests that these two moons were as huge as Saturn’s current moons, Dione and Rhea.
“We tested a hypothesis for the recent formation of Saturn’s rings and have found that an impact of icy moons can send enough material near to Saturn to form the rings that we see now,” Vincent Eke, Associate Professor in the Department of Physics/Institute for Computational Cosmology at Durham University, stated.
The rings around Saturn are made up of ice. However, scientists still think that the planet’s icy moons that led to the existence of the rings have rocky cores. The simulations analyzed during this study proved that the icy fragments and rocky pieces would surely spread around the gas giant in different ways after the huge collision.
This would possibly allow the rocks to come together and form new moons while the ice would move closer to orbit around Saturn. Generally, rings only form around celestial bodies that fall within the Roche limit. In addition, the simulations revealed that several of the hypothetical collisions would pump massive amounts of ice into lower altitudes. However, the rock would come together in higher orbits.
“This scenario naturally leads to ice-rich rings because when the progenitor moons smash into one another, the rock in the cores of the colliding bodies is dispersed less widely than the overlying ice,” Eke said.
The research was published in The Astrophysical Journal on Sept. 27.
Scientists conducted a new study that revealed that Saturn’s rings were formed from the collision between two icy moons millions of years ago. More studies will still be needed to learn about this discovery. In addition, what do you think about Saturn’s rings created by moon collision?