Saturn's iconic rings will disappear millions of years from now

If humans still inhabit the Earth 300 million years from now, they will see a very different Saturn that we know today. NASA says that the most iconic feature of Saturn, those magnificent rings, are disappearing. The rings themselves are said to be a young feature of the planet, at least by astronomical standards. They are thought to be less than 100 million years old.

NASA says that makes them a new feature of the planet and they won't last long, again on a cosmic scale. The rings are continually bombarding Saturn with vast amounts of ice; the rings are largely made up of frozen water. According to a recent paper, the rings drop 22,000 pounds of water ice onto the planet every second.

The rate that water ice is falling onto Saturn means that eventually the rings will run out of material and disappear altogether. NASA estimates that in about 300 million years the rings will be entirely gone. Solar radiation and clouds of plasma from space rock impacts continuously bombard the water ice and other particles that make up the rings. These interactions force the material in the rings to get caught in the magnetic field of Saturn and pulled towards the planet by gravity.

NASA has put together a nice video of the interaction of the rings with the planet to give more detail. A Saturn without its rings is a wild thought. Water ice particles in the rings range in size from microscopic to the size of boulders according to the video.

Saturn's moons Dione and Titan were captured in a recently shared image making what appeared to be a snowman. We learned back in September that Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, has dust storms on its surface.