On the Origin of Saturn’s Rings

One scientist thinks that the origin of Saturn’s rings has been found.

The ringed planetA moon, at least the size of Titan, if not larger, collided with the gas giant in the early years of the solar system. As it was torn apart by tidal forces, its frozen surface spun off and formed a ring system.

That’s the theory of Robin Canup:

Dr Canup said she believed that as this huge moon was about to hit Saturn, the planet’s tidal forces could have “stripped” some of the moon’s icy mantle before the collision.

This resulted in the formation of a massive, icy ring – and the moon’s rocky core simply “fell” on to Saturn’s surface.

With time, the ring’s mass decreased, and icy moons were spawned from its outer edge, added Dr Canup.

Saturn’s rings are ancient — the latest theory suggests that they were formed very early in the solar system’s history — so this collision between doomed moon and young planet would have happened in the wilder time of the solar system’s history, which collisions, like the one that formed our own moon, were more common.

The universe is a very amazing place.

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