Saturn’s rings

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Since the 1600s, there has been a debate over just how long Saturn’s rings are and where they come from. In theory, Saturn once had more moons and some of them crashed into each other. The resulting debris turned into the current rings and 62 moons.

By observing how Saturn squeezes geysers out of its moon Enceladus, scientists have been able to gauge the relative strength of the gas giant’s pull. As all the moons are being thrown into larger orbits, this enables scientists to approximate when this moon crash derby occurred.

The numbers suggest that Saturn’s rings probably don’t date back to the planet’s formation four billion years ago. In fact, except for the more distant moons Titan and Iapetus, Saturn’s major moons appear to have formed during the Cretaceous Period, the time of the dinosaurs.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute