Saturn, Solar System's Time Capsule, Dates Back More Than 4 Billion Years
Majestic Saturn, just a yellow dot when seen from Mother Earth, also serves as a time capsule of sorts, with relics from the dawn of the solar system, NASA scientists have found.
The Cassini spacecraft, launched toward the gas giant in 1997, has been orbiting and sending back data about Saturn, its rings and its moons for more than a decade. The latest data "suggests that Saturn's moons and rings are gently worn vintage goods from around the time of our solar system's birth," NASA said in a statement on March 27.
What they are finding is something that has been obvious to the ancients for millennia: It's all interconnected.
"Studying the Saturnian system helps us understand the chemical and physical evolution of our entire solar system," said Gianrico Filacchione, a scientist for Cassini based at Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics in Rome in the statement. "We know now that understanding this evolution requires not just studying a single moon or ring, but piecing together the relationships intertwining these bodies."
It's Saturn's magnificent rings that provide much of this information, said Filacchione, the lead author of a paper on the matter published in the April edition of Astrophysical Journal. But rings and moons alike date back to the time that the sun first ignited to become a star, which is when the surrounding cloud of material began to coalesce into individual planets.
"While the other three gas planets in the solar system—Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune—have rings orbiting around them, Saturn's are by far the largest and most spectacular. With a thickness of about one kilometer (3,200 feet) or less, they span up to 282,000 km (175,000 miles), about three quarters of the distance between the Earth and its Moon," NASA explains in its description of this ringed giant.
Late last year we showcased this gem hanging in the sky. Here we bring a more in-depth look, some of the photos enhanced by various filters and forms of light to bring out the colors and highlight the different composition of the particles.