Dr James O’Donoghueplanetary astronomer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and lead author of a special research study on the fading rings of Saturn, confirms that the iconic rings of this attractive planet are attracted to the celestial body itself by gravity.
This creates a gas giant on top of the gas giant. “Rain of ice particles”which formed the well-known ring system about 300 million years ago will be completely annihilated. But in just a few months and much sooner than expected, exactly in 2025We will experience the first impressions of a Saturnian sky without visible rings.
What will happen to Saturn in 2025?
In a few months, people will lose sight of Saturn’s rings from Earth. The reason for this is the call “Saturn Equinox”he every 15 earth years occurs.
Due to an optical phenomenon, the Sun’s brightness directed at the equator of this planet causes the The gas giant’s ring system disappears from our perspective from Earth.
Saturn’s tilt in its orbit around the Sun will align the rings precisely with our line of sight from Earth. In this way it will be the optical illusion creates that they have completely disappeared, like a real sample of the Saturn of the future.
Saturn’s beautiful rings are relatively young. They may have formed on Earth during the era of the dinosaurs.
This is not (yet) an actual disappearance of Saturn’s ring system by 2025, but rather an optical phenomenon that will last for years.but it is an excellent sample to imagine what Saturn will be like in the future without its iconic rings.
The equinox of the gas giants.
As a reminder: The equinox is the point in a planet’s orbit where the sun shines directly over the equator. It occurs twice per orbit and, in the case of Earth, as we already know, it occurs in March and September. During the equinox, day and night are almost the same length and the sun rises exactly in the east and sets in the west.
About 1.3 billion kilometers from Earth, on the planet Saturn, equinoxes occur every 15 Earth years, with the next one occurring soon, on May 6, 2025. Seen from Earth, At the Saturn equinox the rings appear sideways and as a very thin line, almost imperceptible by the way.like a virtual disappearance of the rings.
When the sun’s rays hit the rings directly instead of illuminating them from above or below, The shadows cast by the planet’s rings become a single, very narrow band. compressed on the planet, according to ESA.
At this moment the viewing angle of Saturn is 9 degrees, In 2024 it was reduced to just 3.7 degrees and finally in 2025 the ring size was linear to 0 degrees.
During the next phase of its 29-year orbit, Saturn will tilt toward Earth due to the peculiarity of its orbit.. “By oscillating slightly toward and away from the Sun throughout its orbit, Saturn creates a unique phenomenon,” the scientists explain in Profile magazine.
This phenomenon means that the earth at intervals of 13.7 to 15.7 years it is in an exceptional position to see Saturn from the perfect side observed at a distance of 1.2 billion kilometers. At these times, the rings seem to disappear from our perspective on Earth. In 2038 we will be able to take a look at Saturn again, where the rings will be much more visible.
Saturn and the Cassini probe
The Cassini probe explored the Saturn systemfor 13 years (2004-2017), with a cooperation project between NASA, ESA and the Italian Space Agency (ASI), and took spectacular images of Saturn’s shadows The rings appear darker than usual a few months before or after the equinox.
Images taken by Cassini revealed secrets in the rings and discovered previously hidden small moons.
Saturn’s atmosphere is mainly composed of hydrogen, helium, methane and ammonia. It has no lithosphere or trace of water. The temperature of the planet is around -185 °C, Its translation lasts 29.46 Earth years, while its rotation lasts 10.66 hours. It has 146 natural satellites (or moons, discovered as of June 8, 2023), with Titan being the best known.
Astronomers estimate that Saturn between 500 and 1000 rings has, with spaces between the individual rings, some of which are approximately 400,000 kilometers wide (which corresponds to the Earth-Moon distance), while others are only 100 meters wide; but They are extremely thinonly 10 meters thick in the main rings.
That’s why when you look at them from the side, they disappear, similar to a piece of paper when you look at it from the side. Pass made of particles (ice balls or ice-covered stones) that are too small to see with the naked eye, even particles the size of a bus.