Saturn’s rings may be vintage jewelry as old as the solar system, and they’re practically sparkling with water ice, according to data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.
The findings, released this week in the Astrophysical Journal, give planetary scientists a window into the solar system’s birth and development, and show that the formation of at least one of the planet's 62 known moons may have been a little more complicated than thought.
Launched in 1997, the Cassini mission spacecraft is now on its third lifetime exploring Saturn’s complex system and still turning up remarkable new information about the ringed gas giant.
Data from the spacecraft’s visual and infrared mapping spectrometer have revealed how water ice and shades of color are spread through Saturn’s system. Finding an abundance of water ice -- too much to have been deposited by icy comets ramming into the planet or its moons -- the team of Italian and American scientists realized that the ice must hail from around when the solar system first formed, more than 4 billion years ago.