Saturn’s Young Rings

Saturn Rings by Cassini

The ring system cannot be billions of years old

by Spike Psarris

Saturn is an iconic planet. Even in a small telescope, its beauty can inspire awe and wonder.

What is the source of this beauty? The Biblical perspective affirms that Saturn is one of the many ways in which the heavens declare the glory of God. The Lord who created the cosmos also populated it with wonders such as Saturn.

Of course, secular astronomers do not accept this view. Their models say that Saturn formed very early in the Solar System’s history, over four billion years ago.

What about the planet’s famous rings? Many astronomers say that the ring system must have formed at the same time that Saturn did. Indeed, this is a straightforward implication of their models for the formation of the Solar System.

But even among secular astronomers, this is not a unanimous view. A growing amount of evidence has accumulated which shows that the ring system cannot be billions of years old.

Saturn’s rings are made up of particles—from small grains all the way up to boulder-sized—which all orbit the planet together. These particles are mostly made up of water ice, which is why the rings are bright.

Most of our data about the rings comes from the Cassini-Huygens mission, which studied the Saturnian system closely for 13 years. One of the phenomena that the spacecraft measured is the infall of dust and other material into the rings, as Saturn moves through space.

Cassini found that the rings are accumulating a significant amount of dust. This incoming material darkens the rings over time.

However, the rings aren’t dark yet. This implies that there hasn’t been enough time for them to darken.

In other words, the rings must be young…

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image credit: Cassini NASA