BREAKING NEWS 1 dead after head-on crash near Kasson Full Story

Saturn's beauty is fleeting

"Gather ye rosebuds while ye may" is the opening line of a poem by English poet Robert Herrick, first publis...

Posted: Dec 20, 2018 9:17 AM
Updated: Dec 20, 2018 9:17 AM

"Gather ye rosebuds while ye may" is the opening line of a poem by English poet Robert Herrick, first published in 1648. Its cautionary message is a sublime reminder of the fleeting nature of beauty and it admonishes us to be mindful to appreciate it for the short time it exists.

While we do not generally think of astronomical phenomena as short-lived, new NASA research has found that one of the most breathtakingly beautiful features of our solar system may well be surprisingly ephemeral: Saturn's rings.

Aviation and aerospace industry

Business and industry sectors

Business, economy and trade

Celestial bodies and objects

Government organizations - US

NASA

Planets and moons

Saturn

Space and astronomy

Space exploration

Space industry

Spacecraft and satellites

US federal departments and agencies

US government independent agencies

In 1977, NASA launched two intrepid space probes named Voyager 1 and 2 to take advantage of a unique alignment of the planets that allowed them to visit all four of the outer gas giants of the solar system. While only Voyager 2 made the grand tour, both spacecraft passed close by Saturn in the early 1980s.

Images taken by the spacecraft revealed dark bands in the mid-latitudes in Saturn's northern and southern hemispheres. The origin of these bands was traced to water from the planet's majestic rings raining down onto its surface. Astronomers of the time were astounded by the rate at which this rain occurred. It was so large and constant that some thought that the measurement must have somehow been an error.

However, a recent measurement published in the research journal Icarus confirms the earlier result. Using the special instruments attached to the Keck telescope in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, a team of scientists was able to image infrared light emitted by a form of hydrogen that originated from the inflowing water. They found that the amount of water flowing from the rings to the planet would fill two Olympic-size swimming pools every hour. That's 1.3 million gallons (5 million liters).

The water's journey from Saturn's rings to the surface of the planet begins with chunks of ice ranging in size from microscopic grains to boulders perhaps ten feet across, which make up the rings of the planet. This ice experiences bombardment of ultraviolet light from the Sun, which causes it to get a small electrical charge. When a charged object moves and encounters a magnetic field, it experiences a force. Saturn's magnetic field is the second strongest in the solar system, and the resulting force sends the charged ice crystals down to the planet's surface. Most of this rain occurs into the southern hemisphere.

If you compare this magnetically-generated flow rate to the finite amount of ice in the rings of Saturn, you find that the rings will be completely gone in just a very short amount of time, astronomically-speaking. On the basis of this measurement alone, the rings of Saturn will last only about 300 million years. There was an independent measurement of ring material falling directly onto Saturn's equator by the Cassini spacecraft during its thirteen-year mission observing the planet. When these two effects are added together, it looks like the Saturn rings will be gone in a "mere" 100 million years.

While a hundred million years is a long time, it pales in comparison to the lifetime of Saturn, which is about 4.5 billion years.

But a question still remains: Where did the rings come from?

While there have been many theories proposed for the origin of the rings of Saturn, this observation of their short-lived nature suggests that they were created relatively recently. Most likely, some small and icy moons in Saturn's orbit collided and the debris spread out into the rings.

If that explanation is true, it's likely that a long time ago the other gas giants -- Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune -- also had spectacular rings. The rather small rings they now host would then simply be shadows of their ancient glory.

This recent measurement on Saturn also revealed another band on the planet's surface that emits infrared light. This band is at a higher latitude than the two that were previously known. It exists in the southern hemisphere where Saturn's magnetic field intersects the orbit of Enceladus, one of the planet's geologically active moons, which means that its interior is substantially liquid. Because of radioactivity found in Enceladus' core, along with strong tidal forces from Saturn, its interior is warm and it is surrounded by a liquid ocean.

This liquid water is occasionally emitted by geysers -- essentially "water volcanoes," if one interprets Enceladus' geology with an Earthly mindset. That water then falls onto the surface of Saturn.

Astronomers have long known of the measurements by the Voyager probes and have been aware that the rings of Saturn were likely to be a short-lived phenomenon, but this observation clinches it.

So maybe it's time to dig out that old telescope and take another look at Saturn and its beautiful rings before they're gone.

And it wouldn't hurt to gather a rosebud or two...

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 91422

Reported Deaths: 2031
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin26147923
Ramsey10595318
Dakota7250125
Anoka5836132
Stearns383324
Washington362755
Scott247333
Olmsted232927
Nobles193816
Blue Earth16166
Wright15497
St. Louis141936
Carver13657
Rice13098
Mower13015
Clay128840
Sherburne110914
Kandiyohi9362
Winona85318
Lyon6554
Waseca5508
Freeborn5263
Steele5262
Benton5173
Nicollet51316
Watonwan5114
Todd4812
Chisago4621
McLeod4612
Le Sueur4464
Crow Wing44418
Otter Tail4024
Beltrami3805
Martin34310
Goodhue3409
Itasca28913
Pine2870
Polk2774
Isanti2680
Douglas2672
Becker2512
Carlton2461
Unassigned22052
Cottonwood2190
Pipestone21510
Morrison2131
Dodge2090
Chippewa1981
Meeker1872
Sibley1873
Brown1812
Wabasha1810
Yellow Medicine1622
Rock1590
Murray1552
Mille Lacs1523
Redwood1441
Jackson1361
Renville1367
Cass1343
Faribault1330
Swift1231
Roseau1170
Houston1150
Kanabec1148
Pennington1131
Fillmore1100
Koochiching1103
Lincoln1030
Stevens931
Pope890
Hubbard851
Aitkin761
Big Stone710
Wadena670
Grant594
Wilkin573
Lake560
Norman520
Marshall501
Lac qui Parle471
Mahnomen461
Red Lake381
Traverse300
Clearwater260
Lake of the Woods211
Kittson120
Cook60

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 81296

Reported Deaths: 1284
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk15404259
Woodbury506463
Johnson502827
Black Hawk439688
Linn3832108
Story334017
Dubuque289141
Scott283528
Dallas270038
Pottawattamie200638
Buena Vista195512
Marshall176434
Sioux14163
Wapello128057
Webster120914
Clinton108020
Muscatine107854
Plymouth106220
Crawford10215
Cerro Gordo100721
Warren9396
Jasper78332
Des Moines7477
Marion7345
Tama69531
Carroll6445
Henry6314
Lee6097
Wright5651
Dickinson4876
Boone4808
Bremer4717
Washington44011
Louisa42615
Mahaska35819
Delaware3493
Franklin34418
Hamilton3173
Jackson3103
Floyd3063
Winneshiek3045
Clay3014
Benton2921
Hardin2851
Winnebago27813
Lyon2694
Butler2632
Clarke2613
Poweshiek2588
Buchanan2551
Emmet25310
Allamakee2516
Jones2513
Shelby2501
Clayton2383
Kossuth2370
Guthrie2315
Cedar2261
Chickasaw2250
Sac2220
Cherokee2122
Grundy2103
Madison2072
Fayette2032
Iowa1931
Harrison1892
Howard1836
Mitchell1830
Humboldt1773
Calhoun1762
Hancock1762
Mills1681
Palo Alto1650
Pocahontas1542
Lucas1536
Monroe15110
Monona1421
Page1420
Cass1392
Osceola1390
Jefferson1341
Appanoose1263
Taylor1251
Union1233
Davis1184
Van Buren1111
Ida1050
Worth1030
Keokuk951
Greene940
Fremont900
Montgomery905
Wayne842
Audubon701
Adair681
Decatur630
Ringgold452
Adams290
Unassigned80
Rochester
Clear
80° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 80°
Mason City
Clear
78° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 79°
Albert Lea
Clear
79° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 80°
Austin
Clear
79° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 80°
Charles City
Clear
77° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 79°
Tracking more warmth before cooler weather arrives for the weekend
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

Image

CDC issues new guidance for Halloween celebrations

Image

450 Prom dresses donated to Rochester church

Image

Trump sign getting looks in cornfield

Image

Minnesota House candidates square off during local forum

Image

Hy-Vee gives away 500 meals to Rochester families

Image

HyVee gives away 500 meals

Image

NIACC dealing with Covid-19 on a daily basis

Image

MN Statehouse candidates meet in forum

Image

Iowa voter registration day

Image

Tuesday's soccer highlights

Community Events