Saturn's rings finding has been key to homing in on the length of day on it. Scientists are now happy as they have got the best answer yet to a central question about the ringed planet. The findings of these studies were published Thursday (Jan. 17) in Science. Some believed they formed when the planet did 4.5 billion years ago, using icy debris leftover from the formation of the solar system. There has always been a debate about the age of Saturn's rings. But how long afterward? Those changes allowed scientists to, for the first time, make a very good measurement of how much mass is holed up in Saturn's rings.
NASA's Cassini spacecraft had a long and successful mission that spanned a couple of decades.
Teaming up with research partners in Italy and the U.S., their study also helped reveal the age of the planet's iconic rings.
Thomas Stallard, from the U.K.'s University of Leicester, who was not involved in the study, told Newsweek the results were "striking" as it "once again confirms a startling truth, that Saturn's rings have not existed in the solar system since the planet formed, but are relatively young".
Understanding the rings' age and mass is "a fundamental goal of its mission", he added. This orbital configuration allowed the disentanglement of the tiny acceleration of the rings from the large acceleration due to Saturn. As the rings age, they attract more space debris and increase in mass. Scientists reached this conclusion after seeing that they had a small mass. Cassini may be gone, but scientists are still working through the data the spacecraft gathered over its mission.
Unlike Jupiter and Earth's magnetic axis that are not aligned with its rotational axis, Saturn is different. Eventually, toward the center of the planet, the layers move in synchrony and rotate together. "That turned out to be massive flows in the atmosphere at least 9,000 kilometers (5,592 miles) deep around the equatorial region".
NASA scientists had data from Cassini and data from the Voyager spacecraft to use in their quest.
This is nowhere almost as easy as it sounds-and bear in mind we're talking about measuring the position of a space probe tumbling into the atmosphere of another planet hundreds of millions of miles away-because Saturn's air currents were buffeting Cassini around at the same time.
Militzer also was able to calculate that the rocky core of the planet must be between 15 and 18 times the mass of Earth, which is similar to earlier estimates. He also noted that the Cassini mission, then in the planning stages, would be able to make the observations needed to test the idea.
Cassini was launched in 1997 and entered the orbit of Saturn in 2004. The radio science instrument was built by JPL and the Italian Space Agency, working with team members from the US and Italy.
Mankovich developed a set of models of the internal structure of Saturn, used them to predict the frequency spectrum of Saturn's internal vibrations, and compared those predictions with the waves observed by Cassini in Saturn's C ring.