Tethys and the Rings

We have no idea how old Saturn’s rings are. One possibility is that the rings were formed relatively recently in our Solar System’s history. It could be that only 100 million or so years ago a moon-sized object broke up near Saturn. One bit of evidence for young rings is the fact that the rings are so bright and relatively unaffected by numerous small dark spots caused by meteor strikes. However, a recent discovery raises the possibility that some of Saturn’s rings could be billions of years old—almost as old as Saturn itself. Inspection of images taken by the Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft indicates that some of Saturn’s ring particles temporarily bunch and collide, effectively refinishing the surfaces of the ring particles by uncovering fresh bright ices. This picture taken by Cassini shows Saturn’s rings in their true colors. Tethys, one of Saturn moons, is visible in front of the darker rings.

Image Credit: NASA

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