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Saturn's rings may be 'as old as solar system'

Scientists in the US have discovered that the rings were created when the solar system was under construction and not 100 million years ago, as believed earlier.

tech reviews Updated: Dec 14, 2007 14:19 IST

Saturn's rings were probably created as the solar system was being built around 4.5 billion years back, according to scientists.

The scientists in the United States have carried out a study, using data collected by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, and found that rather than being formed 100 million years ago, the rings were created when the solar system was under construction, the ScienceDaily has reported.

Data from NASA's Voyager spacecraft in the 1970s and later the Hubble Space Telescope led the scientists to believe that Saturn's rings were relatively young and likely created by a comet that shattered a large moon.

"Ring features seen by instruments on Cassini -- which arrived at Saturn in 2004 -- indicate the rings're not formed by a single cataclysmic event. The ages of the different rings appear to vary significantly and the ring material is being continually recycled.

"The evidence is consistent with the picture that Saturn has had rings all through its history. We see extensive, rapid recycling of ring material, in which moons are continually shattered into ring particles, which then gather together and re-form moons.

"We have discovered that the rings were probably not created just yesterday in cosmic time, and in this scenario it is not just luck that we are seeing planetary rings now. They probably were always around but continually changing, and they will be around for many billions of years," are according to Prof Larry Esposito, the Principal Investigator for Cassini's Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph at CU-Boulder.