Hubble Finds Saturn’s Rings Are Breaking Apart and Heating Up Planet’s Atmosphere

By: | April 1st, 2023

Image by NASA

Saturn’s rings are probably the most recognized feature of our solar system. Now in a ground-breaking discovery, scientists have discovered that Saturn’s magnificent rings are heating the planet’s upper atmosphere.

According to NASA, this phenomenon has never before been detected in the solar system

Researchers discovered this using information from the Hubble Space Telescope, the Cassini probe, both Voyager spacecraft, and the International Ultraviolet Explorer mission.

The study suggests the unexpected interaction between Saturn and its rings. Researchers found an excess of UV-radiations which can be seen as a spectral line of hot hydrogen in Saturn’s atmosphere. This suggests that something is heating Saturn’s upper atmosphere from the outside.

Scientists believe that particles from the icy rings are falling into the planet, and this effect is heating up the planet’s upper atmosphere

Lotfi Ben-Jaffel, the study’s lead author, explained, “Though the slow disintegration of the rings is well known, its influence on the atomic hydrogen of the planet is a surprise. From the Cassini probe, we already knew about the rings’ influence. However, we knew nothing about the atomic hydrogen content,” 

“Everything is driven by ring particles cascading into the atmosphere at specific latitudes. They modify the upper atmosphere, changing the composition,” 

“And then you also have collisional processes with atmospheric gasses that are probably heating the atmosphere at a specific altitude.”

Nidhi Goyal

Nidhi is a gold medalist Post Graduate in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences.

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