It’s official: Saturn is Losing its rings — and they're disappearing much faster than scientists had anticipated

Saturn's recognizable rings would undoubtedly help you choose it out of a crowd. They are our solar system's largest and brightest rings. Wide enough to fit six Earths in a row and extending more than 280,000 kilometers from the planet. Saturn won't always appear this way, though. due to the disappearance of its rings.

Yes, Saturn is actually shedding its rings. And quickly, even quickly than was predicted by scientists. Saturn is currently receiving 10,000 kg of ring rain each second. sufficient to fill an Olympic-sized pool in 30 minutes.

This rain is actually the disintegrated remains of Saturn's rings. Saturn's rings are mostly made up of chunks of ice and rock. Which are under constant bombardment: Some by UV radiation from the Sun and others by tiny meteoroids.

When these collisions take place, the icy particles vaporize, forming charged water molecules that interact with Saturn's magnetic field; ultimately, falling toward Saturn, where they burn up in the atmosphere.

Now, we've known about ring rain since the 1980s when N.A.S.A's Voyager mission first noticed mysterious, dark bands that turned out to be ring rain caught in Saturn's magnetic fields. Back then, researchers estimated the rings would totally drain in 300 million years. But observations by N.A.S.A's former Cassini spacecraft give a darker prognosis. Before its death dive into Saturn in 2017, Cassini managed to get a better look at the amount of ring-dust raining on Saturn's equator.

And discovered that it was raining heavier than previously thought. With these clearer observations, scientists calculated the rings had only 100 million years left to live. Now, it's tough to imagine a ringless Saturn.

But for much of its existence, the planet was as naked as Earth. While Saturn first formed around 4.5 BILLION years ago, studies suggest the rings are only 100-200 million years old, tops. That's younger than some dinosaurs.

So when you think about it, we're pretty lucky we happened to be around to see those magnificent rings. Really lucky, in fact. Because efforts to study those rings have led us to other discoveries.

For example, as Cassini explored Saturn's moon Enceladus, it uncovered a trail of ice and gas leading back to Saturn's E ring. Enceladus is the whitest, most reflective moon in our solar system.

And by studying the ring more closely, scientists now know why. Turns out, the moon is constantly gushing out gas and dust.

Some of it ends up in space and in the E ring while the rest snows back onto the moon's surface, creating a blinding white frost.

So, who knows what other discoveries might be hiding within the rings? At the very least, it's clear we'd better keep looking while we still can.