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Space Science

Saturn's Rings May Be Very Old 125

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the even-older-than-bob dept.
Kristina from Science News writes "Combining computer simulations with data about the way starlight shines through Saturn's rings suggests the individual grains are big and thus could have been around a good 4 billion years, not the mere 10 million to 100 million previously suspected. What may have thrown earlier observations off is the chance that the grains aren't evenly distributed, but clump here and spread out there."
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Saturn's Rings May Be Very Old

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  • by moderatorrater (1095745) on Tuesday September 23, 2008 @03:25PM (#25126665)
    Saturn was more faithful than Zeus in the mythology, it makes sense that it would have had its ring for a while.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Plutonite (999141)

      In any case, we now know Saturn's rings were there a good couple of years before the republican candidate, at least.

      • by gnick (1211984)

        In any case, we now know Saturn's rings were there a good couple of years before the republican candidate, at least.

        Actually, I'd be surprised if McCain had ever even visited Saturn. Although I wondered often during the primary races if a couple of the candidates had extraterrestrial origins.

        • by Abreu (173023)

          Well, every time I hear about Bush doing something stupid, I remind myself that I voted for Kodos...

        • by macraig (621737)

          Has McCain visited Uranus yet? If so, what did he find and did he enjoy the trip?

        • Actually, I'd be surprised if McCain had ever even visited Saturn.

            I think everybody would. :)

            SB

      • And Saturn does a better job at keeping rings on than McCain does, too.

      • by Plutonite (999141)

        My happiest moments on slashdot are those when I'm modded a positive flamebait value. Apparently, some mods have been giving McCain blowjobs since before Saturn had rings. Jeeze, lighten up you guys! :)

      • by chemisus (920383)

        In any case, we now know Saturn's rings were there a good couple of years before the republican candidate, at least.

        maybe the republican candidate, but id be willing to bet al gore invented the saturn rings

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by flyingsquid (813711)
        In any case, we now know Saturn's rings were there a good couple of years before the republican candidate, at least.

        Indeed, Saturn's rings are ancient. Perhaps as old as 6,000 years (according to Sarah Palin)!

    • by MBGMorden (803437) on Tuesday September 23, 2008 @03:30PM (#25126781)

      You're mixing you're mythology. Saturn is Roman, Zeus is Greek :). Not that the joke wasn't funny, but it just looks odd ;).

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by megamerican (1073936)

      Saturn was more faithful than Zeus in the mythology, it makes sense that it would have had its ring for a while.

      To be fair, it is easy to be faithful when you have 1000's [answers.com] of wives.

    • by flydude18 (839328) on Tuesday September 23, 2008 @03:34PM (#25126843)

      Hey, if your wife was a bitch like Hera, you too would get wasted and go around taking various forms and impregnating mortal women, so don't judge.

    • by kjllmn (1337665)
      Mythology: Saturn (Kronos) is "the old man", father of Jupiter (Zeus), and it makes sense if he is the oldest of them all. The rest of the guys and gals are the new kids on the block.
    • Why do you spread this web of lies!?!?! The rings on Saturn can't be that old because the universe was created 6000 years ago! Everyone knows that if you believe in Zeus you are condemned to hell, right? I mean, that's what the president said, so it has to be true...
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by prozaker (1261190)
      if I remember correctly cronos was the son of uranus and zeus was the son of cronos.

      "Cronos is the wily, youngest and most terrible of the children of Uranus, whom he hated. He castrated his father and became ruler of the universe, but was later overthrown by his own son Zeus."

      http://www.maicar.com/GML/Cronos.html [maicar.com] in reality both were really bad :(
  • I think it's cool... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by davidangel (1337281)
    that Saturn's rings are governed by Shepherd Moons.
  • The article seems to contradict itself:

    The origin and age of Saturns rings has been a riddle for decades, notes Jeff Cuzzi of NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. He notes that the gravitational interactions between particles in Saturns A ring and adjacent moons would transfer momentum from the rings to the moons, pushing the moons outward and slowing down the ring particles. If the rings were really as old as Esposito suggests, then the moons would be much farther away than they are and the A

    • by Moraelin (679338) on Tuesday September 23, 2008 @03:55PM (#25127207) Journal

      1. It's not as much self-contradicting, as two different people are supporters of two different theories. One of them is obviously wrong, and they'll have to compare the evidence and find out who. In the end that's how science works.

      But at any rate, it's not that theory X contradicts itself. It's just that theory X contradicts established theory Y. Or at least someone thinks he has data which contradicts theory Y, and his own theory X explains better. That's expected. If it didn't contradict anything, it wouldn't be much of a piece of news, and probably the old one would fit Occam's Razor better.

      2. Well, you don't seem to understand journalism. These guys can't just tell you "X says Y", because that would violate their fucked-up notion of journalistic impartiality. They _have_ to present the opposite point of view too, even if they have to scrape the bottom of the proverbial barrel to have an opposing point of view.

      Because for these guys everything is an opinion. If they feature John Jackson saying "I say your 3 percent Titanium tax goes too far!", they have to bring in Jack Johnson saying "I say your 3 percent Titanium tax doesn't go far enough!" Well, in politics those _are_ opinions, but these guys have to do the same to science articles too. If they star someone saying, "the temperature is rising", they also have to find someone who'll go "no, it's sinking!" Or viceversa. If they feature someone who says, "power lines can't cause _allergies_, silly, because that's not how your immune system works. A protein has to bind to another mollecule, see.", they also have to drag in some crackpot who'll testify how he and his dog sneeze near power lines, and he's even in a crackpot group where they all can testify that they sneeze near power lines.

      Even if one or both are with degrees in gardening, bought from some fly-by-night diploma mill in Elbonia. And they can't tell you that, because that would already tell you who to believe, and that's against journalistic impartiality.

      In this case it's not that bad, and it's even relevant for a change. Because I'd assume the fellow from NASA _is_ in a position to know what he's talking about. But the basic principle is the same: if X says the rings are old, they can't publish that without finding someone else who says they're new. It's just how it works. In this case they actually found a scientist for the opposing point of view. But knowing modern journalism, that's more of a happy coincidence than the rule.

      3. While this may create (and does create) a lot of impression that there's a lot of controversy in science, and nobody knows anything for sure, that's really nothing lethal to science. That's how it's supposed to work. We don't know _everything_ already, or we could fire all scientists and be done with it. A theory at a given moment is just the one which best explains the existing data. When new data is found that it doesn't fully explain, we get to refine it into something better.

      That's really how we moved from, say, indivisible atoms, to the raisin-pie model, to the planetary model, to the modern quantum model. Each model was good enough for a given data set, but finding more data brought it into question. Until those Rutherford, Geiger and Marsden went and shot alpha particles through a gold foil, nobody ever suspected that the positive charge is concentrated in a small nucleus. Now we know better.

      The same happens here. For the data we had, the existing theory (which obviously Jeff Cuzzi represents) of new rings was good enough. Now someone found data which he thinks contradicts the existing one. It remains to be seen if he's actually right. Yes, there still is the possibility, of an "or not." But either way it's no loss. At the end of it, we'll learn a little bit more about the universe. That's the whole purpose of the exercise.

      • by Sockatume (732728)
        The only exception to the "show both sides" thing is a story where scientists confirm some long-held bit of common sense, or where it's a fantastic bit of sensationalism. Nobody is brought in to "balance out" findings that confirm a link between caffiene and insomnia, instead the media just spends its time loling about the obviousness of it all. (There's a section entirely about this in Metro, as though taking things for granted was good science.) Nobody is brought in to "balance out" a paper suggesting tha
      • by sac13 (870194)

        Well, you don't seem to understand journalism. These guys can't just tell you "X says Y", because that would violate their fucked-up notion of journalistic impartiality. They _have_ to present the opposite point of view too, even if they have to scrape the bottom of the proverbial barrel to have an opposing point of view.

        You, my friend, are obviously not a viewer of Fox News... or CNN if you happen to lean to the right. There are VERY FEW "journalists" that don't let their bias through. People just flock to the one's that they share bias with. You can't have objective media in a subjective society.

        • by Moraelin (679338)

          Oh, I didn't say they are really impartial, by _your_ definition or mine. Just that they came up with their own fucked-up definition of what impartiality means, and strive to meet that warped redefinition of it.

          Same as if I said I'm an astronaut if I watched a documentary about the space shuttle. It may not match your definition, but it matches mine. I can now say with a straight face that I'm an astronaut. According to my own definition of it.

          Basically I only said that they must have an opposing point of v

    • Or another way to look at it: the article is being honest and presenting evidence to the contrary. There are ways around Jeff's concerns, though.

  • Uranus! (Score:3, Funny)

    by orkim (238312) on Tuesday September 23, 2008 @03:29PM (#25126757)

    Uranus jokes in: 3, 2, 1...

  • Why would they think they would necessarily be smooth. With the moons circling, comets flying by, Jupiter swinging around every so often. I'm surprised they're as evenly distributed as they are.

    • by CheshireCatCO (185193) on Tuesday September 23, 2008 @03:50PM (#25127143) Homepage

      Over scales of tens or hundreds of meters, none of that mattes. The nearest known moons are in the outer edge of the A ring (Pan and Daphnis) and don't affect the B ring much (moons are too small). Jupiter has no effect at all being at least 4 AU away, generally more. The larger moons can muck things up, but the effects tend to be at resonances and are pretty localized.

      What Larry Esposito and others are talking about is localized clumping, more like what's known in the A ring. Over a scale of a few hundred meters, you wouldn't necessarily expect suck clumping to occur.

      • by rubycodez (864176)

        suck clumping

        I find your idea intriguing and wish to subscribe to your newsletter, if it's illustrated.

    • by nschubach (922175)

      Personally, I feel that gravity still affects objects even at great distances leading to the eventual disc shaping that we normally see in clusters of space matter (like our solar system.) I of course, am not a professional scientist and everyone wants me to think that Einstein is right about a big invisible sheet in the sky that we all roll around on trying to reach the center and eventually breaking through as a black hole... but I disagree.

      It makes sense to me through, and I'm not sure if I could explai

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by CheshireCatCO (185193)

        Gravity has little to do with the disk shape. Collisions drive the flatness. Collisions tend to average out speeds, so that eventually everyone moves in the same direction at almost the same speed. (In Saturn's rights, where speeds are tens of kilometers per second, relative collision speeds are at about a millimeter per second.)

        • by nschubach (922175)

          I don't argue that collisions didn't have their place, but I'm arguing that gravity also plays a bigger role in this. At least you didn't instantly go out and call me a "crackpot" for thinking about the whole thing and questioning instead of believing "the world was flat because that's what I was told in school."

          All I'm basically saying is that the sheet of space/time analogy given is a really bad one. To me, it's kind of like the car analogies floating around here. They don't quite fit and teaching kids

          • by CheshireCatCO (185193) on Wednesday September 24, 2008 @09:45AM (#25135991) Homepage

            This will cause them to adjust their orbits to match. Well duh, right?

            Actually, no. That isn't what happens, in spite of your intuition. The moon's response to the rings is largely to have a more rapid vertical motion than it would around just the planet. (This can be worked out for an embedded moon/planet in a disk using a Gaussian pillbox argument. It's a classic galactic dynamics question for undergrads, in fact.) There are more effects possible, depending on the relative masses and locations. For example, the moon can launch bending waves in the ring of material, which can then tug back on the moon. This can either pump up or damp down the moon's inclination. (Which isn't obvious and depends on a variety of parameters in the system.) The moon can also cause warps in the ring, but those tend to wind up pretty fast.

            On the other hand, people *have* simulated rings. (Including myself, I might add.) You find that gravitational encounters between particles in the rings actually pump *up* the ring thickness. It's only with dissipative collisions that you get the ring to collapse down.

            Your objections to the Cosmic Microwave Background are probably fodder for a different discussion, but it's difficult to see how that data shows evidence of a galactic collision, given the low energy involved (and the precise match to the predictions of the Big Bang). You should probably be worried that you're letting your desires for how the universe *should* be make you closed to what the data say it probably *is*. It's a very human response, but one that works contrary to good science.

            • by nschubach (922175)

              On the other hand, people *have* simulated rings. (Including myself, I might add.) You find that gravitational encounters between particles in the rings actually pump *up* the ring thickness. It's only with dissipative collisions that you get the ring to collapse down.

              I can understand how you say that gravity would increase the thickness (as objects orbiting each other within the belt would naturally interact and deflect) and I understand how collision would damper this. I'm not really disagreeing here. The only problem I have with that at a larger scale (planetary/galactic) is that the planets don't collide with each other to maintain a flat orbit. They may have collided originally, been thrown into inclination opposed to other bodies in the area (Neptune/Pluto?) but

              • he only problem I have with that at a larger scale (planetary/galactic) is that the planets don't collide with each other to maintain a flat orbit.

                No, they don't. But they did form that way. Why? Because gas clouds collide even better than dense stars and planets. The stars or planets that form out of those clouds will then be in disks.

                Proof that your theory doesn't work can be found all around the universe: there are non-disk galaxies everywhere. Clearly, their stars aren't be forced into coplanar orbits.

                As I stated before, the known data in medieval times was that the world was flat.

                That's not true in the first place. Even the Greeks knew that the Earth was round and Europeans never forgot it. The Greeks early on looked at

      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        I don't know how to say this nicely, so I'll be blunt. You're a crackpot. Please don't take that bad, but you sound exactly like so many people who say, "I don't understand the math, but physics is wrong and I know better." Check out Act III [thislife.org]

        You obviously don't understand the first thing about the physics you claim is false. Rubber sheets? That's just a way of explaining it to children. It's not the actual model. Discs form because angular momentum [wikipedia.org] is conserved and nothing sweeps thing into a large
  • this just in, scientists also found out that the solar system might also very old
  • FTA:
    "If the rings were really as old as Esposito suggests, then the moons would be much farther away than they are and the A ring would have fallen into the B ring, he says."

    I don't know anything about the moon distances or rings, but isn't it possible that the rings were formed over time?

    The outer rings could be much older than the inner rings, for example, and as they age they move outwards and are replaced by new rings formed by impacts.
  • if there that old... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Coraon (1080675)
    then who knows whats floating around in those rings, there might be some good clues to the nature of this star systems construction in there...
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by CheshireCatCO (185193)

      Not likely, the ring particles have been bouncing off of each other for a long time. Saturn's rings are dynamically-speaking one of the oldest systems known (meaning each particle has made lots of orbits) and collisions occur on the scale of at *least* a few per orbit per particle in the B ring. (If clumping is occurring, it's even higher.) So the particles will probably have evolved from that alone. Plus, we don't know where the ring material came from. There's reason to think it was from an earlier

      • by owndao (1025990)

        If the ice within the rings is non-renewable, in other words not being replenished from some source outside of the rings what is the upper limit on the time it would take for the clumps to sublimate away? If they are of cometary material origin and are like the comets we see, the ones that are outgassing at a tremendous rate what would be their life expectancy?

        It seems to me that if this is a closed system that surely 4 billion years is plenty of time to have sublimated away any original ice. Perhaps instea

        • If the ice within the rings is non-renewable, in other words not being replenished from some source outside of the rings what is the upper limit on the time it would take for the clumps to sublimate away? If they are of cometary material origin and are like the comets we see, the ones that are outgassing at a tremendous rate what would be their life expectancy?

          Comets outgas almost entirely when they're near the Sun, within Jupiter's orbit or closer. Saturn's rings, being 10 times farther from the Sun than the Earth, are cold. Very cold. Around 100 K or so, probably a bit colder. (They also spend a large fraction of their time with almost *no* solar illumination, both due to ducking into Saturn's shadow and due to equinoxes on Saturn.) So sublimation is a slow actor for them. (Some probably occurs, but I don't know the rate. But at these temperatures, water

  • Could they be older than McCain?

  • Space could be very big.
  • Seems to me that the previous speculations were formed from non-existence data. "Now that we have actually taken the time to do a test, we can omit our guesstamation"
    • No, they weren't. Previous theories were based on the spectra of the particles (stuff left in space gets 'weathered' with time due to meteoritic dust and high-energy particle/photon alterations) and to dynamical arguments. What this study has suggested is that the spectra are misleading because the material that's exposed now may not have always been on the surfaces.

      • by tinkerton (199273)

        The claim that the rings around Saturn would have been brand new - or the astronomical equivalence thereof - is quite shocking though. They'd need very strong arguments to back this up. Let's put it this way, the normal conclusion of previous research should have been "where did we go wrong?".

        • There are two lines of evidence suggesting young rings. Against that, you're saying that the first reaction should be "we screwed up"? That's pure arrogance. You're elevating your opinions above the value of the data and that's the opposite of science.

          The universe is full of surprising things that humans find counter-intuitive. If we always assumed that we screwed up when we found them, we'd still be believing that the Sun goes around the Earth and that God created us in six days.

          (Also, as it is, no one

          • by tinkerton (199273)

            Hm, i note a certain desire to disagree... I could start by agreeing with what you say. Then, let's add some corrections.

            - You may underestimate the value of opinion and intuition. If a model contradicts your intuition it does need to carry some weight before it can overrule your opinion. It's easy to say the old guys were stupid to object to the fact that the earth was rotating around the sun, but I think that's not entirely fair. If somethings upsets your worldview it's reasonable to be more demanding fo

            • No, I value intuition quite highly. Like with detectives, scientists get a lot of use from their intuition. It helps us narrow down the places to look for solutions. But, also like detectives, in the end, we can't argue our intuition to each other. It's too personal and subjective. It's true that extraordinary claims require extraordinary data, but that doesn't mean that every claim needs overwhelming evidence. The data supporting young rings for Saturn (two separate lines of evidence!) was solid and

              • Well, you both cleared my mind up on this topic. I understand how important intuition can be for scientists, just as it is for all other people. I am not very familiar in this area and still a lot of research to do.

                The rings, whether young or old, are still ancient to me. If they are even more ancient then previously thought, let the truth be told!
  • What may have thrown earlier observations off is the chance that the grains aren't evenly distributed, but clump here and spread out there.

    I wish they would both clump and spread there, and not here.

  • They're very old, astronomers just didn't realize it because they were stored in mothballs [slashdot.org]
  • Of course the are old, they were forged by the Dark Lord Sauron before his conquest of middle earth. After attempting to bind the planets to his will and failing, he figured pesky little dwarfs, elves, and humans would be a bit easier.

  • In other news... (Score:2, Informative)

    ... The Sun may be very very hot.
  • get off my rings!
  • I don't know much about the Cassini mission but I would imagine that they wouldn't want to jeopardize the probe by sending it too close to the rings where debris might damage her. You know what'd be cool though? If they could send in a reinforced probe similar to the Giotto probe that flew into Halley's Comet, send it as close to the rings as they can with a good telescope on board. I'd love to see actual close-up photos of the rings and see how accurate a prediction that artist's impression is.

    • Reinforced = more massive = harder to launch (and a lot more expensive).

      The closest Cassini will have gotten to the A and B rings is almost certainly during orbital insertion when it flew over the A ring. That was still too far away to see individual particles, though.

  • Clearly they mean 6000 years?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    They can't be more thsn 6000 years old.

  • It's the original one ring.

  • Oh yeah, it was on Slashdot nine months ago [slashdot.org].

    • To be fair, the group had another press release (saying much the same thing, but with some new results) that triggered the Slashdot story. So it's not *exactly* a dupe.

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