Saturn’s rings are disappearing


Saturn is losing its most famous accessories.

The planet has been shedding its rings since 1980, but a study published this week in the journal Icarus found that they’re disappearing faster than anyone realized — and could vanish fully in 100 million to 300 million years.

That’s a blink of an eye on the cosmic time scale, as the solar system has been around for billions of years and is expected to be around for billions more.

“The big conclusion is that ring systems are temporary features,” James O’Donoghue, a postdoctoral fellow at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and lead author of the study, told NBC News.

“They’re just not built to last.”

The rings — which are made of 98 percent ice — have been raining down heavily on the sixth planet from the sun. They’re showering about 2 tons per second on Saturn in a phenomenon dubbed “ring rain.”

“The rings are basically being eaten away from the inside,” O’Donoghue said.

It’s long been debated whether Saturn was born with the rings or whether they appeared over time, but the new study suggests that they are younger than the planet.

“If they’re decaying fast now, they can’t have been around that long,” the researcher said.

The findings suggest the rings were probably formed at the same time that dinosaurs were about to be wiped out on Earth, tens of millions of years ago.

Now, they’re halfway to death, the study found.

“We are lucky to be around to see Saturn’s ring system, which appears to be in the middle of its lifetime,” said O’Donoghue.