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Saturn’s majestic rings are the remnants of a long-vanished moon that was stripped of its icy outer layer before its rocky heart plunged into the planet, a new theory proposes. The icy fragments would have encircled the solar system’s second largest planet as rings and eventually spalled off small moons of their own that are still there today, says Robin Canup, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo.
As per the study, a moon nearly as big as Saturn's largest satellite - Titan - likely spiraled into the massive planet approximately 4.5 billion years ago. As a result, the fated moon's icy outer layers were stripped off due to Saturn's powerful gravity, and they thus formed the splendid rings of the planet.
Saturn's rings may be nearly as old as the solar system, a new study says, contradicting prior calculations that they clock in at only a few hundred million years. That's because ring particles may have been repeatedly recycled during the previous four billion years, said study author Larry Esposito of the University of Colorado at Boulder—a finding that hints that the rings could last for many more eons.
The gravitational pull of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, causes giant, circling "tsunamis" of icy particles in one of the planet's rings, new data suggest. The discovery may solve the 30-year-old mystery of a gap in Saturn's faint, inner C ring. NASA's Voyager 1 probe—observing Saturn's rings from a single, shallow angle—first recorded a rippling region within the C ring during a November 1980 flyby. The otherwise regular ripple was interrupted by a gap that seemed to be almost 9.3 miles (15 kilometers) wide, based on radio data. Complicating the matter, later pictures of the C ring showed no large gap. Now scientists working with NASA's Cassini orbiter have confirmed the gap exists.