Hey, here’s your downer for today: those wonderful rings which ensconce Saturn and compel us to accept that there is an innate beauty to the universe? Yeah, they’re going to disappear. Sorry mate.
Look, it’s not going to happen in your lifetime. They’ll probably be gone in roughly 100 million years, so amateur telescope guys are all good for the foreseeable future. I mean, they’re never good, per se, but they’ll be fine. This has been confirmed by new NASA research, which found that Saturn is losing its rings at a “worst-case-scenario” rate.
Basically, the rings are gradually being pulled into Saturn’s atmosphere as a “dusty rain of ice particles,” which sounds like a lame way for them to go. I would personally prefer something involving explosions, or maybe an insatiable space octopus. But, you know, I have no input into this kind of thing.
(As an aside, it is maybe telling about the state of the world that when I first learned of this, my initial thought was, “Oh great, what the fuck have we done now?” But no, we did not do this.)
“We estimate that this ‘ring rain’ drains an amount of water products that could fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool from Saturn’s rings in half an hour,” said James O’Donoghue of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. That’s quite quick:
From this alone, the entire ring system will be gone in 300 million years, but add to this the Cassini-spacecraft measured ring-material detected falling into Saturn’s equator, and the rings have less than 100 million years to live. This is relatively short, compared to Saturn’s age of over 4 billion years.
This research also points to the fact that the rings themselves aren’t actually that old in the grand scheme of things, with scientists estimating they’re probably around 100 million years old. This puts us right in the middle of their projected lifespan.
Vale, Saturn. You’re about 100 million years away from becoming just a regular old shitty planet no one cares about. Once your ring is gone, what are you bringing to the table that we couldn’t get from, say, Neptune? Nothing!
You can read more in NASA’s report.