Saturn has it all — bright, beautiful rings and interesting moons. And the two appear to be related — the rings and moons are made of the same stuff. That raises an interesting possibility: Either the rings gave birth to the moons, or the moons gave birth to the rings.
There’s no doubt that the rings and moons are interacting with each other. Material chipped off the surfaces of some of the moons adds to the rings. And some of the stuff in the rings is glomming onto the moons.
One indication of which came first is the age of the rings — or it would be if scientists were sure of the number. Some studies say the rings are about as old as Saturn itself — more than four billion years. If so, they might have formed when a giant moon broke apart when Saturn was young. In that case, the ring material could have come together to form today’s moons.
But other studies say the rings formed recently — perhaps within the past hundred million years. In that case, the rings could have formed from the moons — perhaps from debris left over after big collisions, from a constant “chipping away” from smaller impacts, or from eruptions on the moons themselves.
So until scientists can agree on the age of Saturn’s rings, they won’t be able to say which came first — its amazing moons or its brilliant rings.
Saturn is easy to spot tonight. It stands directly above our Moon at nightfall, and looks like a bright star.
Script by Damond Benningfield