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Saturn's Rings Could be Disappearing

michael posted more than 9 years ago | from the rated-r-for-ringless dept.

Space 48

fenimor writes "Saturn, the sixth planet from the Sun, is probably best known for its famous planetary rings. They extend from 6,630 km to 120,700 km above Saturn's equator, and are composed of silica rock, iron oxide, and ice particles. A massive eruption of atomic oxygen from Saturn's outer rings, seen by Cassini's ultraviolet camera, may be an indication that the planet's wispy E ring is eroding so fast that it could disappear within 100 million years if not replenished."

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A hundred million years? (3, Funny)

Canthros (5769) | more than 9 years ago | (#11117532)

Whoa, we better get cracking on that one right away.

Re:A hundred million years? (2, Funny)

JamesTRexx (675890) | more than 9 years ago | (#11118917)

I am relieved that I misread. At first I thought it said 10 million years and paniced.

Re:A hundred million years? (2, Funny)

east coast (590680) | more than 9 years ago | (#11119033)

Whoa, we better get cracking on that one right away.

You joke about it now but you'll put it off thinking there is pleny of time, watch a few episodes of M*A*S*H, Maybe play a video game or two, make something to eat and before you know it BAM! It's 100,002,005 AD. The rings will be gone and you'll have done nothing about it.

Who will be laughing on that day, Mr. Fancy Pants?

Re:A hundred million years? (1)

iggymanz (596061) | more than 9 years ago | (#11164945)

ah-HAH!! This Saturn ring disappearing is the fault of you damned Cthulu cultists! You woke Him up & He's got the munchies.....

Re:A hundred million years? (2, Funny)

St. Arbirix (218306) | more than 9 years ago | (#11119857)

Whoa, we better get cracking on that one right away.

I'm sure someone somewhere is.

For some reason most people have this natural compulsion to believe all the effects we see in the environment are caused by humanity.

I think it's obvious the martians are depleting it in preparation for an attack.

Re:A hundred million years? (1)

KarMann (121054) | more than 9 years ago | (#11121773)

No, it's obviously the Fithp [] who are up to something out there.

Re:A hundred million years? (1)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 9 years ago | (#11137404)

Save Saturnian Rings! []

I have a plan! (2, Funny)

Lendrick (314723) | more than 9 years ago | (#11117557)

Let's fill a space shuttle up with rocks and ice, and then send it out to Saturn and replenish the ring ourselves!

Help is here! (2, Funny)

Zareste (761710) | more than 9 years ago | (#11118221)

I'll fill up my ice-cube tray!

Re:I have a plan! (3, Funny)

dahl_ag (415660) | more than 9 years ago | (#11119120)

This reminds me of a guy who used to post on sci.astro years ago. I think his name was Abian. Anyway, he was seriously pushing to start an initiative to re-orbit Mars and give it a more Earth-like orbit. This would make it easier to terraform, etc. As I recall, he was proposing a relatively short time table for this. Anyway, I remember someone coming up with a "better" idea. Just ship up lots of cans of green and blue paint and paint Mars to look like Earth. If I recall correctly, it only went downhill from there.

Send some Gatorade! (1)

DiGG3r (824623) | more than 9 years ago | (#11136985)

its good for replenishment.

Enough with the editorialising... (1)

Tanktalus (794810) | more than 9 years ago | (#11117576)

If not replenished? What - are we expecting humanity to do this? It's a natural course of events that not even the most extreme environmentalists could possibly blame on humanity...

Of course, TFA states it in a much less drastic manner, talking about a natural process to replenish, which, of course, would be fascinating to learn about - and could be useful in figuring out natural processes for replenishing other things, whether ozone, or other phenomena (hard to predict without the knowledge we would gain!)

Re:Enough with the editorialising... (2, Funny)

Yanray (686150) | more than 9 years ago | (#11117735)

You undersestimate the finger pointing. Just wait a few hundred years the "Fight to save Saturns Rings" will go down in history as humanities folly, just like global warming.

I just want video footage of the neo-hippies getting sucked into Saturns Gravity well while holding hands and singing Kumbia. Oh the humanity...

Re:Enough with the editorialising... (1)

stevew (4845) | more than 9 years ago | (#11118182)

Yep - I was wondering when someone would get around to point the blame at hummanity for the errosion of Saturn's rings.

I can just see it now - SUV causes Saturn's rings to crash.

Re:Enough with the editorialising... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11119811)

Mmmmmmm. Straw man. Mmmmmmmmm.

Me, I'm waiting for the Republicans to blame it on Bill Clinton.

Saving the rings (1)

Anders Andersson (863) | more than 9 years ago | (#11118567)

According to theory, the rings were originally made up of water ice, but over the years they have been bombarded with a lot of other material (rock, I presume) so that they are now quite dirty. A lot of dust has landed on Saturn's moons as well; see for instance Phoebe [] and Iapetus [] , the latter showing a nearly black leading hemisphere [] (imagine pushing a snowball in front of you through an ash cloud for 100 million years).

In other words, what is desperately needed up there is a vacuum cleaner [] (then we can send the sufficiently cleaned ice on a trajectory towards Mars, to be used for irrigation).

Re:Enough with the editorialising... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11120559)

replenished NATURALLY you retard.

good god you need to be beaten with a tackhammer.

Re:Enough with the editorialising... (2, Informative)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 9 years ago | (#11121934)

I strongly doubt that any process that replenishes the rings would be applicable to replenishing the ozone layer. For one thing, the ozone layer is chemistry in action, the rings are much more simple physics. (Blasting particles off of a moon has little to do with producing O3 molecules on Earth.)

More important, you need to point out to me where the blurb suggests that humans should replenish the rings. "Replenish" doesn't really imply that humans need to be involved. Any attempt to read that statement as saying that the means need to be artificial says more about your than about how you read things than the person who wrote it.

So? (1)

erykjj (213892) | more than 9 years ago | (#11117588)

Is the universe doomed?

Re:So? (1)

Yanray (686150) | more than 9 years ago | (#11117877)

This can best be answered by Quoting the Devils Dictionary:


One of the Creator's lamentable mistakes, repented in sashcloth and axes. Being instated as an archangel, Satan made himself multifariously objectionable and was finally expelled from Heaven. Halfway in his descent he paused, bent his head in thought a moment and at last went back. "There is one favor that I should like to ask," said he.

"Name it."

"Man, I understand, is about to be created. He will need laws."

"What, wretch! you his appointed adversary, charged from the dawn of eternity with hatred of his soul -- you ask for the right to make his laws?"

"Pardon; what I have to ask is that he be permitted to make them himself."

It was so ordered.

So, the correct response to your question. Yes, we were doomed from the start.

100 Million Years (1)

Icyfire0573 (719207) | more than 9 years ago | (#11117848)

100 Millions Years, thats like ..... TOMORROW. OH MY GOD somebody do something, the rings of saturn are disappearing faster than a girls virginity on prom night

Re:100 Million Years (1)

tenman (247215) | more than 9 years ago | (#11117950)

oh, like you would know anythinkg about a girl's virginiy -OR- prom night.... go back to coding...

As old as humanity? (1)

centauri (217890) | more than 9 years ago | (#11117873)

I can't remember or find the exact words right now, but in the novel "2001" Aruther C. Clarke had some words about how the rings were a fragile and transitory phenomenon and had probably only come into existance a few hundred thousand* years before... roughly the same time that human beings appeared on the scene.

(*number pulled out of butt)

What, it takes that long? (1)

leonbrooks (8043) | more than 9 years ago | (#11125106)

This [] reckons that planetisimals can form from dusty ice slush in "a few thousand years" and it's not alone. Having a look at the known turmoil in the rings - shepherd moons and so on - they have to have a fairly solid source of replenishment somewhere, or they'd be history in mere millennia.

Re:What, it takes that long? (3, Interesting)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 9 years ago | (#11125547)

Millennia? Unlikely. Millions of years would be more in line with the research. (Actually, the dynamical lifetimes of Saturnian rings can be upwards of 100 million years.)

Rings aren't really what I'd call "turbulent". Collisions speeds are very, very small. Eccentricities are practically non-existant by planetary standards. Things are pretty orderly, on the whole.

Worse, Larry Esposito (the real head of the UVIS team, despite what the article indicates) has floated the idea that rings might recycle themselves. It's a good idea, and his initial (crude) models indicate ring ages that are much too long. So it's not wholly clear that rings can't be primordial.

Still, the concensus remains that rings probably aren't an original feature of the solar system and that there is a source of ringy-goodness somewhere in the systems. So you're probably right overall: replenishment is likely occuring.

On an seperate note, what does the formation of icey planetesimals from the protosolar disk have to do with ring ages?

go go gadget finger pointer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11117939)


On the rocks, please. (2, Funny)

PhotoJim (813785) | more than 9 years ago | (#11117949)

... that is, if the Americans don't start harvesting it to make ice cubes. Better yet... E Ring Bottled Water! Straight from the rings of Saturn... Makes Dasani seem kinda ... ordinary. :)

Re:On the rocks, please. (1)

KarMann (121054) | more than 9 years ago | (#11121844)

Not necessarily so. Dasani might still be pretty special.

Re:On the rocks, please. (1)

KarMann (121054) | more than 9 years ago | (#11121885)

Hmm, there was supposed to be a link for that first sentence. If the link doesn't work right here [] , and this Google search [] doesn't link right either, go Google yourself for "Mars water Dasani", follow the only link that comes up, you'll see what I mean.

Im just waiting (1)

Striker770S (825292) | more than 9 years ago | (#11117995)

until it becomes Americas problem or when the rings become a threat to America and must be dealt with by force. One or the other will happen.

Re:Im just waiting (1)

HotNeedleOfInquiry (598897) | more than 9 years ago | (#11118022)

That's right. Let's see if we can blame it on Freon or greenhouse gasses.

Well, If I understand my Republican friends.... (1)

StressGuy (472374) | more than 9 years ago | (#11140557)

Should what you suggest actually happen, it will most likely be traceable to a failure in the Clinton Administration.


Ok...put your rocks down...I'm registered independant, that means I can take shots at both sides of the aisle.

And the most fun (1)

Striker770S (825292) | more than 9 years ago | (#11143849)

thats why i like being libertarian, you can sit back and laugh at all the mudslinging idiots go at it, and you dont join in cuz you know its a 2 party system, god bless America.

Heat (1)

bairy (755347) | more than 9 years ago | (#11118130)

I was watching a program about the future of our solar system the other day. They were saying in around 5 billion years (iirc) (about the time it takes to logon to aol) the sun will be hot enough to melt saturns rings. However Neptune is due to grow it's own rings sometime after that.

That was the vague universe news.

Re:Heat (1)

TLLOTS (827806) | more than 9 years ago | (#11119739)

I thought the sun steadily cooled over time, but produced more light? I could be wrong though, this is just what I'm remembering from science classes five years ago.

Re:Heat (1)

bairy (755347) | more than 9 years ago | (#11119776)

Oh that's right. Same effect wrong explanation. It cools but expands so the heat moves outwards, and it moves outwards quicker than it drops temp.

news conference (1)

xyeeyx (839193) | more than 9 years ago | (#11118885)

I've heard rumors on the internets that the oxygens are attacking Saturn. I hear Titan is full of methane, so we will invade... to protect it, of course

Warning: Troll (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11120082)

Yes this is a wicked Troll.

The evaporation of the Rings of Saturn are caused by Global Warming. We all *know* that Global Warming is caused by American vehicles.

Therefore, the United Nations should take immediate action and pass a bunch of "resolutions" sternly warning those bastard Americans that they are ruining the beauty of Saturn's Rings and will be in Real Big Trouble Any Time Now.

Only then will the Rings be saved.

Re:Warning: Troll (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11121312)

Holy crap, I was just going to post the exact same thing... :)

Cut me some slack, its Friday, and I'm counting down the minutes to leave... wait a minute, I'm salary, I get paid just as much to work as when I twiddle my thumbs [] !

Re:Warning: Troll (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 9 years ago | (#11122231)

It's not a troll if you label it as such. That's like putting up a neon sign that says "SECRET ENTRANCE" at the ingress to your lair.

KYOTO.... (1)

traveyes (262759) | more than 9 years ago | (#11120303)

...needs to be amended.


Okay... (2, Informative)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 9 years ago | (#11121900)

First of all, 100 million years is a pretty long time, even by planet standards. Second, the E-ring is easily one of the most tenuous of the rings. (You've never seen it through a telescope, for example.) The A, B, and C rings, the ones you've seen, are a lot denser. It's not clear if they're disappearing, and if so, how long they'd last. In fact, if you get past the sensational leader paragraph, you discover that it is far from clear that the oxygen even came from the E-ring.

Actually, whoever wrote that article didn't really check the facts all that well. A quick check would have shown that the E-ring only starts at 180,000 km from the planet's center (that's 120,000 km from the "surface"). It extends out another 300,000 km, so this isn't a totally trivial point. Also, the UVIS instrument, fantastic though it is, hasn't discovered all of the things that they claim it did. Most of those observations were made in the visible wavelengths. And were discovered by, er, Voyager. I mean, I hate to be nitpicky on the one hand, but is it so much to ask for people to try to keep the facts straight?

Oh no! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11122203)

Saturn's rings are disappearing!

Fortunately, brown rings will always remain around Uranus.

Why? (1)

PrivateDonut (802017) | more than 9 years ago | (#11122412)

Why is it that everybody feels that we must enact change, even when it isn't our place? The erosion of this ring is a natural process and should be allowed to proceed thus. If it was our fault that the erosion is occuring then I could understand the need to fix it, but I don't believe this is the case.

Fools! (1)

Transcendent (204992) | more than 9 years ago | (#11124525)

See what global warming is doing! It's even melting the ice rings of saturn!

And you all thought global warming wasn't going to happen... pfft...

article title (1)

jbridge21 (90597) | more than 9 years ago | (#11125301)

If it's just the E ring in danger of going away, then how is it "rings" could be disappearing? That's a bit sensational.

Just one ring??? (1)

relaxrelax (820738) | more than 9 years ago | (#11125644) that ring for my birthday... my precious...

Well seriously this should have been posted under the LOTR topic. It rings too true to have it discussed by specialists of the one ring. (-;

Ring around the collar! (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 9 years ago | (#11128163)

Big Alien TV commercial: "Oh those dirty rings. Satty gets teased at school. We MUST wash them away, but my brand X soap just doesn't work...."
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