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Saturn's Rings Are Ancient

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the steady-relationship dept.

Space 61

gardenermike writes "Analysis of data from the Cassini probe suggests that Saturn's rings may be billions of years old, rather than the previously surmised millions. Previous research suggested that the rings were young, because of the lack of dark dust accumulation on their surfaces. However, the latest data suggests that the ring surfaces are even younger than previously thought, meaning, ironically, that the rings themselves are much older: they are not static enough to collect dust, but rather are continuously recycling material, with clumps continuously forming and disintegrating."

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The Ring's Surfaces Are Younger (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21706090)

So that makes the rings themselves older. Uh huh.

Re:The Ring's Surfaces Are Younger (1)

Sterling2p (922774) | more than 6 years ago | (#21706126)

Maybe it's just me, but I thought the summary explained why they think that.

Re:The Ring's Surfaces Are Younger (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21706142)

ironically

You keep using that word..

Re:The Ring's Surfaces Are Younger (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21706176)

And you show your own perfect understanding of its use.

Re:The Ring's Surfaces Are Younger (1)

Brian Gordon (987471) | more than 6 years ago | (#21706150)

seems to me unlikely that scientists can possibly be all that familiar with the dynamics of dust accumulation on THE RINGS OF SATURN.

Re:The Ring's Surfaces Are Younger (1)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 6 years ago | (#21709558)

Are you unfamiliar with the fact that Cassini is measuring the dust in the Saturnian system? Check the instrument listing, look for "CDA" (Cassini Dust Analyzer). Not that this is the first time that this has been done.

Re:The Ring's Surfaces Are Younger (2, Insightful)

MacDork (560499) | more than 6 years ago | (#21706326)

Maybe it's just me, but I thought the summary explained why they think that.

Maybe it's just me, but I thought the summary included false logic. The summary made no mention why a younger surface excluded the possibility that the rings were exactly the same age scientists previously thought they were. It only opens the door to the possibility of older rings.

Re:The Ring's Surfaces Are Younger (5, Interesting)

calebt3 (1098475) | more than 6 years ago | (#21706140)

Think of it like your skin: it is replaced over the course of a month, so you skin is never more than a month old. But you as a whole are quite a bit lder than one month. (either that or you a a genius child).

Re:The Ring's Surfaces Are Younger (1)

Abeydoun (1096003) | more than 6 years ago | (#21706516)

For some reason I always get fascinated when we discover equilibrium events occurring in the vastness of space. It gives the chaotic universe a strangely comforting sense of order.

Question to the physicists and theoretical mathematicians amongst you, would this fall into the realm of chaos theory?

As old as the universe itself! (1)

NightRain (144349) | more than 6 years ago | (#21706174)

At least this article didn't try and claim the rings are as old as the universe, like some others [dailytech.com] have. The article itself has been corrected, but the comments towards the end summarise the "insight" of the original article just fine :)

Re:As old as the universe itself! (1)

ArikTheRed (865776) | more than 6 years ago | (#21708770)

At least this article didn't try and claim the rings are as old as the universe, like some others have.
So, the rings are 6,000 years old then?

6000 years old (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21706188)

Perhaps they are missing the obvious with their scientific hubris. They will find out just how long a billion years is - their first week in hell .

Re:6000 years old (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21706244)

i will back you up on that buddy.

Proof of the 6000 year old age [independencebaptist.org]

Re:6000 years old (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21706298)

Pro-tip! Making a terrible horrible web page filled with pages upon pages of illogical rants is a sure sign you are a nut case. Furthermore it guaranties that no one will ever believe you.

Re:6000 years old (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21708182)

Well, you've at least backed up the suspicion that you're a total crotch-tugging moron, anyway....

Lick my rim! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21706222)

The ring of joy.

Wrong planet, maybe? (0)

hyades1 (1149581) | more than 6 years ago | (#21706224)

I know I'm going to get killed for this, but...are you sure this story wasn't about Uranus rather than Saturn?

Re:Wrong planet, maybe? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21706286)

No, the rings around Uranus were only formed this morning.

Re:Wrong planet, maybe? (1)

Convector (897502) | more than 6 years ago | (#21706354)

Assuming you're making an honest inquiry, and not just cashing in on the joke, it is indeed Saturn. Cassini (on whose data this study was based) went to Saturn, not Uranus. Larry Esposito's the PI for the UVIS instrument on Cassini.

Re:Wrong planet, maybe? (4, Interesting)

hyades1 (1149581) | more than 6 years ago | (#21706436)

No, just cashing in on the joke. I've actually been following Cassini from the get-go, and I'm fascinated by what's turned up.

A century or two ago, my school sent me to the last AAAS meeting in Toronto and I got to see the live data feed from the JPL when Voyager sent back those "braided" ring pictures. Right in the room, almost as fast as they arrived, two or three scientists figured out that a pair of shepherding moons might be responsible for the braiding. They were right, as it turned out.

There was more amazing science on display at that conference than I've ever seen in my life.

Re:Wrong planet, maybe? (1)

Emetophobe (878584) | more than 6 years ago | (#21706782)

A century or two ago, my school sent me to the last AAAS meeting in Toronto...

Wow, you must be really old.

And then... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21706860)

...Those scientists praised God and His Divine work.

Because, you know, they were American scientists.

Oh wait, sorry, wrong decade. Forget I even mentioned it.

Re:Wrong planet, maybe? (1)

Agripa (139780) | more than 6 years ago | (#21707784)

A century or two ago, my school sent me to the last AAAS meeting in Toronto and I got to see the live data feed from the JPL when Voyager sent back those "braided" ring pictures. Right in the room, almost as fast as they arrived, two or three scientists figured out that a pair of shepherding moons might be responsible for the braiding. They were right, as it turned out.

And all along I thought the braided rings were caused by the Thuktun Flishithy [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Wrong planet, maybe? (1)

hyades1 (1149581) | more than 6 years ago | (#21708648)

Good one.

You aren't going to believe this, but I swear to it by everything I hold sacred: Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle were at that conference and I got to hang out with them a fair bit. As a matter of fact, Pournelle directed me to a session I otherwise would have missed where several scientists presented papers that exposed Reagan's Star Wars initiative for the multi-billion dollar cash grab it was. The little university newsletter I was writing for got to be one of the first publications in print to use that term.

I've still got one of Niven's business cards. A gate-fold model (like a double card folded in half) with a graphic of the Ringworld on it.

Re:Wrong planet, maybe? (2, Insightful)

Agripa (139780) | more than 6 years ago | (#21710308)

I swear to it by everything I hold sacred: Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle were at that conference and I got to hang out with them a fair bit.

I am not surprised. Authors often write their own personal experiences into their works including events they have attended.

Pournelle directed me to a session I otherwise would have missed where several scientists presented papers that exposed Reagan's Star Wars initiative for the multi-billion dollar cash grab it was.

I am not old enough to have made my own determination at the time about the technical and strategic feasibility of SDI. However, even if it had been an unarguably sensible thing to spend significant resources on, the political process as practiced in the US then and now would have made it a cash grab in much the same way that all large military or scientific projects that I am aware of become cash grabs.

Re:Wrong planet, maybe? (1)

syousef (465911) | more than 6 years ago | (#21708040)

Can I just say you lucky lucky bastard. Was Sagan in the room that day?

Cosmic Roomba (1)

jagdish (981925) | more than 6 years ago | (#21706328)

The Monolith cleans up the rock regularly. Thats why there is no dust on them.

Seriously though, wouldn't the solar winds have any role in this.

Cosmic Washing Machine (4, Interesting)

ChromaticDragon (1034458) | more than 6 years ago | (#21710524)

I rather doubt the solar wind plays much role in "cleaning" up any dust here.

The mechanisms suggested here don't appear to be so much like a massive fan or a Cosmic Roomba but rather as a VERY LARGE agitator.

The research isn't necessarily suggesting the rings are ancient. It's saying our reasons for thinking the rings are young aren't as sound anymore. Basically, up until recently for a variety of reasons we thought the rings were young because our understanding led us to the belief that these rings ought to collapse rather soon (either into Saturn or its moons).

But now we're thinking there are forces which clump and forces which stir up. These work together more or less to recycle the material of the rings themselves. This leads researchers to believe the rings aren't necessarily going to collapse any time soon and indeed may be far older than we originally thought.

If "birth" of an apple is when it falls from a tree and you see one dropping (but you didn't see it fall and you have no idea where the branch is), you conclude it's "young". You know it's going to hit the ground soon and you know no matter where the branch is, it's not that far up and the apple only goes down. However, if all of a sudden you see a geyser blow and shoot that apple back up again.. and again... and again... you start to realize you really don't have any idea when it first fell off the tree.

It's under the couch. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21715408)

The rings are well within Saturn's magnetosphere, which protects them from the solar wind.

Obigigatory: (1)

rts008 (812749) | more than 6 years ago | (#21706346)

I, for one, welcome our self cleaning and replicating Ancient overlords!!

So, we've found the home of the Ancients, and it was in our own solar system the whole time! Who would've thunk?

Re:Obigigatory: (1)

RhythmStep (650747) | more than 6 years ago | (#21714202)

Three Saturn Rings for the Slashdotters under the sky, Seven for the Java-lords in their halls of stone, Nine for Mortal Anti-Microsoft Men doomed to die, One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne In the Land of Microsoft where the Service Packs lie. One Saturn Ring to rule them all, One Saturn Ring to find them, One Saturn Ring to bring them all together and in the Microsoft darkness bind them In the Land of Microsoft Vista where the Buggy-Bugs lie.-- J R R Tolkien, amended and perverted

This isn't really conclusive... (3, Insightful)

Fyz (581804) | more than 6 years ago | (#21706454)

Just because there is evidence that rings could be ancient, doesn't mean that they are. They could still go through this recycling process and still be formed by cometary impacts at a time later than the planetary formation phase.

Re:This isn't really conclusive... (1)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 6 years ago | (#21709434)

I agree. And it isn't news, either: Larry Esposito has been saying this (and sending out press-releases) for years to this effect. He's just found another small bit of evidence that supports -- or at least doesn't refute -- his idea.

How does Cassini's UV data determine the age? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21706494)

Might be slightly redundant but can anyone tell me how scientists interpret the UV data from Cassini to determine the age of the rings?

Re:How does Cassini's UV data determine the age? (1)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 6 years ago | (#21709462)

Mostly, they've found transient clumps of material in the rings which suggests that some of the ring particles might break up and re-clump periodically. This means that ages derived from looking at meteoritic contamination are off since the volume that the meteoroid dust must be spread in is larger than thought.

Honestly, it's data that doesn't refute and weakly supports the older age, I think. Interesting, but then he's been saying this for years.

More observations (4, Funny)

Kohath (38547) | more than 6 years ago | (#21706498)

Saturn's rings smell like licorice, according to the probe. This comes as a shock, since the scientific consensus has been that they'd smell almost precisely like a wet dog.

Re:More observations (1)

philntc (735836) | more than 6 years ago | (#21710600)

they'd smell almost precisely like a wet dog.

No, you're thinking of Pluto.

Re:More observations (1)

thewiz (24994) | more than 6 years ago | (#21712462)

I think you have Saturn's rings confused with Pluto.

Shouldn't this have been the default assumption? (4, Insightful)

iamacat (583406) | more than 6 years ago | (#21706666)

Overwhelming majority of features in the solar system are at least a billion years old. Anything younger should have obvious signs of recent formation. For the Rings of Saturn, we would expect to see some rocks still settling into circular orbit, remainder of the disintegrating satellite or at least markedly non-uniform size of composing rocks. So how did the scientists come up with this unlikely hypothesis of the rings having just formed by astronomical time scale in the first place? Even (primitive) life on Earth probably existing for millions of years.

Re:Shouldn't this have been the default assumption (0, Flamebait)

Rakishi (759894) | more than 6 years ago | (#21706742)

1. Rings are as I understand it in general unstable or were thought to be so, given a relatively short amount of time (millions of years for large planets) they will break up.
2. Saturn's rings have particle ranging from mm to many meters in size.
3. You are complaining of a million years being short yet at the same time expect us to see changes that would take millions of years to happen? Are you drunk or simply insane.
4. Life on earth is billions of years old, our own primate ancestors were around millions of years ago.
5. You know fuck this, you're a bloody arm-chair physicist who knows jack shit, can't even think with the smallest amount of rationality and lacks the intelligence to comprehend either of those. Your own infinitesimal ego needs constant life support to even exist and so your are forced to delude yourself into believing you know better than those who spend their lifetimes on a subject.

Re:Shouldn't this have been the default assumption (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21707046)

I'm not an astrophysicist, but I would encourage you to perhaps read up on some scientific papers. Or make an interview appointment with some professor at a university or a physicist who works at some kind of museum/lab (assuming they're willing to answer your questions).

However, your response is not very helpful - it's always easy to go, "aha, that's obvious - of course it works that way.", after scientific evidence has been found for a new hypothesis. But keep in mind this hypothesis could still be disproved. Futhermore, there's plenty of hypothesis that were completely counter-intuitive (at least from the knowledge at the time) and yet was completely right (quantum mechanics, relativity, etc).

So remember, as always, hypothesis first, observations second, then determining whether or not your hypothesis is correct. Even if scientists followed your line of reasoning, it wasn't worth anything if all the evidence they had to date supported another theory.

A good way to think of that, is an great example of this kind of dangerous reasoning that happens with evolutionary psychology (from my PSYCH 101). Since evolutionary psychologists generally can't perform experiments to validate their hypothesis, contradicting hypothesis can be equally convincing (and equally wrong too) - forget the example they used in the textbook.

Re:Shouldn't this have been the default assumption (2, Informative)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 6 years ago | (#21709516)

There are many things in the solar system that are younger than 4.55 Gyr; a lot of asteroids, for example, are the results of more recent breakups. You have impact craters and other geologic features on practically all bodies. Honestly, assuming that anything you look at is primordial is a pretty daft assumption unless you can make *some* argument as to why it should be.

As for Saturn's rings, a modicum of research would tell you that there are both dynamical reasons to think that rings are younger (models say that they should grind down to dust relatively fast) as well as observational evidence: the amount of meteoric dust that they've accumulated is smaller than should be there if they were as old as the planet itself. In fact, had you read the article, you would have learned that.

Right-wing radio disagrees! (4, Funny)

DreamerFi (78710) | more than 6 years ago | (#21706772)

Quote: [blogspot.com]

It is possible - and I think Walt Brown may have it right on this one - that Saturn's rings are from the Earth - believe it or not, I know it sounds crazy - let me explain. He says when the fountains of the deep broke open - Genesis Chapter 7 - the pressure of 10 or 15 miles of rock [...] the pressure 10 or 15 miles down is phenomenal [...] So if there was water in the crust of the Earth like the Bible says there was [...] then this water would come shooting up to the surface when the "fountains of the deep" broke open and the Earth busted up like an eggshell. That water shooting up would have enough pressure - according to Walt Brown - to eject things into space. They would drift around for awhile - who knows for a couple of hundred years - and run into something like Saturn and make the rings.
Truth Radio 6 June 2006 @ 26:30 (Tape 2)


(click the link for more great examples of Kevin Hovind's logic and reasoning)

Re:Right-wing radio disagrees! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21707960)

The link in your sig 404's.

Re:Right-wing radio disagrees! (1)

Arthur Grumbine (1086397) | more than 6 years ago | (#21709178)

I would totally mod you up if I had points. That's hilarious!! And sad... but mostly hilarious.

Re:Right-wing radio disagrees! (1)

DreamerFi (78710) | more than 6 years ago | (#21709994)

thank you :-)

re (3, Interesting)

JohnVanVliet (945577) | more than 6 years ago | (#21706786)

just a screen shot of Saturn's rings i posted in a diff. forum
http://img181.imagevenue.com/img.php?loc=loc37&image=55459_satring_122_37lo.jpg [imagevenue.com]
the image is 1024x718

Re:re (1)

GrievousMistake (880829) | more than 6 years ago | (#21709854)

A screenshot of Saturn's rings? Don't you think that's a little redundant?
There already are some very nice pictures of the real Saturn [hubblesite.org] .
Here's [planetary.org] a wonderful look of the rings from above.

So what keeps them going? (1)

dtjohnson (102237) | more than 6 years ago | (#21707524)

If the rings are 4.5 billion years old, what process is maintaining them? If they are just an aggregate of rocks in orbit around a planet, their orbits should have decayed and they should have fallen into Saturn about 4.49 billion years ago. Obviously something completely out of the realm of our current understanding is going on.

Re:So what keeps them going? (1)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 6 years ago | (#21709540)

Why would the orbits decay? Are you worried that the Moon will be hitting us soon?

Re:So what keeps them going? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21709920)

Now that you mention it, yes. Can I get some more medication ?

Re:So what keeps them going? (1)

dtjohnson (102237) | more than 6 years ago | (#21726294)

Why would the orbits decay? Are you worried that the Moon will be hitting us soon?

I thought the idea of decaying orbits was obvious but...maybe not. Generally, yes, the Moon's orbit is decaying and has been doing so since it was formed. Eventually, in a couple of billion years, as a result of tidal interactions between the Moon and Earth as well as the Sun, the Moon will approach more closely to the Earth and break apart into short-lived Saturn-like rings that will then rain down upon the Earth. The rings of Saturn are composed of all different sizes of rocky material orbiting Saturn in a tight equatorial orbit. The amazing thing is that this apparently-unsteady-state system is apparently 4+ billion years old which then prompts the interesting-to-me question of what process is maintaining the tight equatorial orbit of the ring material over a 4 billion year period.

Re:So what keeps them going? (1)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 6 years ago | (#21728634)

Why is it obvious? Your example, the Moon, is dead wrong. Our Moon is moving away from the Earth, not towards it. (Granted, in about 5 billion years, after the Earth is likely to be gone anyway, it will reverse direction because of the effects of solar tides on the Earth. But the the collision, if the Earth survives that long, is therefore ~15 billion years off, three times the age of the solar system.) The ring material isn't even subject to those forces since they aren't large enough individually to raise bulges and are collectively evenly distributed longitudinally, so no such leading or trailing bulge will appear. (Even if they did, around half -- or more -- of the ring material would be outside of co-rotation and evolve outwards, not inwards.)

Re:So what keeps them going? (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 6 years ago | (#21710188)

Saturn kicked in the extra money for the extended maintenance contract.

!ironic (1)

mqduck (232646) | more than 6 years ago | (#21707562)

Who's worse, the people who don't understand and therefore misuse the word irony, or the the people who don't understand and then call every use of the word irony they see incorrect? I'm not sure what these taggers THINK irony means, but "However, the latest data suggests that the ring surfaces are even younger than previously thought, meaning, ironically, that the rings themselves are much older" is a perfect example of it.

Re:!ironic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21707632)

A "philatelist" is "one who collects stamps". A "numismatist" is "one who collects coins". Ironically, there is no word for "one who makes a hobby of bitching about people's misuse of the word 'irony'". That's really ironic, don't you think?

Re:!ironic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21708014)

It's just like rain on your wedding day!

Re:!ironic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21715502)

Who's worse, the people who don't understand and therefore misuse the word irony, or the the people who don't understand and then call every use of the word irony they see incorrect?

That's pretty ironic bro.

Re:!ironic (1)

MightyDrunken (1171335) | more than 6 years ago | (#21737522)

To me the phrase, "However, the latest data suggests that the ring surfaces are even younger than previously thought, meaning, ironically, that the rings themselves are much older" is fine. According to http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=irony/ [reference.com] , irony can be:

5. an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected.
6. the incongruity of this.

Is this not recognised as irony? It certainly is a commonly used meaning for the word.

But (0, Flamebait)

cyofee (975070) | more than 6 years ago | (#21707884)

Why would God make something appear so old, when it is clear he made it 6000 years ago?

Re:But (2, Funny)

gznork26 (1195943) | more than 6 years ago | (#21708404)

Find out for yourself. The rings are a recorded analog message, and Iapetus is the stylus. All we need to do is fabricate the mounting bracket, install the 'needle', and hook up an amp...
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