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Saturn's Rings Could be Disappearing 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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Saturn's Rings Could be Disappearing

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  • by Canthros ( 5769 ) on Friday December 17, 2004 @01:49PM (#11117532)
    Whoa, we better get cracking on that one right away.
  • by Lendrick ( 314723 ) on Friday December 17, 2004 @01:51PM (#11117557) Homepage Journal
    Let's fill a space shuttle up with rocks and ice, and then send it out to Saturn and replenish the ring ourselves!
    • by Zareste ( 761710 )
      I'll fill up my ice-cube tray!
    • 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 downhi
    • its good for replenishment.
  • 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 gai

    • 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...
    • 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 [nasa.gov] and Iapetus [nasa.gov], the latter showing a nearly black leading hemisphere [nasa.gov] (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 [halfbakery.com] (then we can

    • 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
  • by erykjj ( 213892 )
    Is the universe doomed?
    • This can best be answered by Quoting the Devils Dictionary:

      SATAN: n;

      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 appo
  • 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
  • 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)
    • This [ohio-state.edu] 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.
      • by CheshireCatCO ( 185193 ) on Saturday December 18, 2004 @03:28PM (#11125547) Homepage
        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?
  • ... 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. :)
  • 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.
  • by bairy ( 755347 )
    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.

    • 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.
      • 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.
  • 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
  • by Anonymous Coward
    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.
  • ...needs to be amended.

  • Okay... (Score:3, Informative)

    by CheshireCatCO ( 185193 ) on Friday December 17, 2004 @09:07PM (#11121900) Homepage
    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?
  • 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.
  • 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...
  • 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.
  • ...got 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. (-;

  • 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...."

"My sense of purpose is gone! I have no idea who I AM!" "Oh, my God... You've.. You've turned him into a DEMOCRAT!" -- Doonesbury