Home Page Science Frontiers

No. 39: May-Jun 1985

Issue Contents

Other pages

Other Interesting Sites











Saturn's rings may be young

When the Voyager spacecraft swept past Saturn, they radioed back photos of a complex, very dynamic system of rings -- thousands of rings. Studies of these rings have led some astronomers to wonder if they are really as old as Saturn itself. Two lines of thinking suggest a recent origin:

(1) The rings are composed of both light material (very likely water ice) and dark material (probably rocks and dust). The rocky fragments, according to the prevailing nebular theory, should have condensed early in solar-system history, and then been swept gravitationally into the planet as they were slowed by friction with the uncondensed nebular material. Yet, dark material is still in the rings. (2) The incessant bombardment of the rings by meteorites should have pulverized the rings, sending fragments and vaporized material in all directions. In just 10 million years the rings should have been largely erased. They are still there.

(Cuzzi, Jeffrey N.; "Ringed Planets: Still Mysterious -- II," Sky and Telescope, 69:19, 1985.)

Comment. Assuming the rings are young, where did they come from? What happened to Saturn in "recent" times?

Reference. Several lines of evidence point to the youth of Saturn's rings. See: ARL16 in our catalog The Moon and the Planets. Ordering information here.

From Science Frontiers #39, MAY-JUN 1985. 1985-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987