(WTAJ) — Saturn is a visual marvel in our solar system, but how did it get those awe-inspiring rings? A new series of NASA supercomputer simulations might have the answer.
In fact, they believe the rings formed back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. NASA released a video explaining that the rings potentially evolved from debris created after two icy moons smashed into each other a few hundred million years ago. The debris may have also combined to create some of Saturn’s 145 moons.
“There’s so much we still don’t know about the Saturn system, including its moons that host environments that might be suitable for life,” said Jacob Kegerreis, a research scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. “So, it’s exciting to use big simulations like these to explore in detail how they could have evolved.”
NASA’s Cassini mission made scientists question just how young Saturn’s rings and some moons might actually be. This opened up new questions about how everything formed around Saturn.
Saturn’s rings currently live in the Roche limit. It’s the farthest orbit where a planet’s gravity is powerful enough to tear apart large pieces of rock or ice, according to NASA. Beyond this point, these materials could have formed moons.
“When the icy progenitor moons smash into one another, the rock in the cores of the colliding bodies is dispersed less widely than the overlying ice,” said Vincent Eke, an associate professor at Durham University’s Department of Physics and Institute for Computational Cosmology.
Scientists simulated nearly 200 versions of the impact and found several scenarios that would scatter the right amount of ice into Saturn’s Roche limit, creating those iconic rings. This would explain why Saturn’s rings are made of almost entirely ice chunks.