Roughly 160 million years ago, the cocoon, one of nearly 90 moons orbiting Saturn, was shaken, entered the giant planet’s gravitational field and disintegrated. The remains of the lost moon formed the rings of Saturn. Free Chrysalis Saturn from [gravitational] The gravity of neighboring Neptune, which synchronized, gave Saturn the unique inclined orbit it has today.
Today, Science has published this new explanation of the origin of Saturn’s rings for the first time. The hypothesis solves two mysteries at once – the unusual inclination of Saturn and the age of the disks that surround this planet. The study’s lead researcher, Jack Wisdom, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), explains that his team simulated hundreds of scenarios using multiple variables until they got a result that fit the astronomical observations. “I don’t like disasters,” he says sarcastically, but the icy structures that Saturn has now “can only mean that the cocoon has come to a catastrophic end.”
The planetary science professor explains that the “basic data” for the study was collected by NASA’s Cassini probe shortly before the mission ended. In 2017, a spacecraft intentionally fell into it
Saturn’s atmosphere and disintegration. The main question was where the planet’s mass is concentrated: “The tilt of the planets depends on whether the matter is in the regular core or on the surface, which makes Saturn behave in specific ways in each case,” sums up Wisdom.
By comparing theoretical models with spacecraft observations, scientists discovered that Saturn was in synch with Neptune at some point. The gravitational balance between the two planets was broken when the cocoon was broken. This is the astronomical equivalent of Saturn devouring its child. The debris surrounding the planet now came from that process.
That’s why researchers chose the name Chrysalis for Saturn’s lost moon. Similar to a butterfly’s transformation, that moon “layed dormant for a long time, awaiting instability,” Wisdom says. When that time came, the moon shattered, forming the rings of Saturn. The study authors estimate that the cocoon is 1,500 kilometers in diameter, roughly half the diameter of the moon.
René Duvard, an astronomer at the Andalusian Institute for Astrophysics who is not affiliated with the study, is excited about these important new discoveries. He notes that Wisdom’s team has been able to “model many complex variables through simulation.” They demonstrated their hypothesis about how the icy structures of Saturn formed, as well as why its axis of rotation is tilted by 26.7 degrees. As Davard points out, the research also provides more information about Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, which moves about 13 centimeters away from the planet each year. In turn, Titan helps explain the tilt of Saturn.
Duvard, an asteroid specialist, notes that the measurements are “very accurate” and help piece together the curious history of how Saturn acquired its young rings. While the planet formed 4.5 billion years ago, the rings are only 160 million years old. In addition, he asserts that the study shows that we should stop talking about gas giants and just call them giants [planets]. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are not [gas giant planets]. The researcher explains that they have both solid and liquid cores along with very large atmospheres, which has been mistakenly regarded as gaseous. Jupiter and Saturn have solid cores up to four times larger than Earth’s.
In the long term, Davard believes this analysis will be useful for studying exoplanets. Such investigations often use Saturn and Jupiter as references. “Just as a geologist studies the Earth’s surface and compares it to the Moon, we will be able to use this new information to study other worlds,” he says. We discovered more than 4,000 planets. The search possibilities are endless.”