New Data From NASA’s Cassini Probe Show That Saturn’s Moons Are Much Younger Than Scientists Thought

Saturn, probably the most beautiful planet of our Solar system is full of surprises. Ever since astronomers of the past discovered the planet’s moons, Saturn was shrouded with mystery. Saturn also has the second largest number of moons orbiting the planet in the Solar System (62 compared to Jupiter’s 67 moons). The Cassini Probe, launched by NASA sent data showing Saturn’s moons may be younger than previously thought.

A Recent analysis of the data sent by Cassini, NASA’s probe orbiting Saturn, shows that moons of Saturn are not 4.5 billion years old. The study was conducted by researchers from Cornell University and Europe scientific team, Encelade, and published in the Icarus journal.

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Basically, the moons are too close to Saturn to be 4.5 billion years old; Some of the moons are believed to be made out of material from Saturn’s rings. The co-author of the study, Radwan Tajeddine, an astronomy research associate at Cornell and a member of Encelade scientific team said that by monitoring tidal disturbances the scientists were able to obtain Saturn’s Love number (there are three Love numbers in total, h, k, and l; they are parameters used for measuring the rigidity of a planetary body and the susceptibility of its shape to change in response to a tidal potential), delimiting it from the planet’s dissipation factor. As Tajeddine said, “Those two parameters – the Love number and dissipation factor – are difficult to separate.”

With the help of all those parameters, astronomers found out that if Saturn’s moons were as old as it was previously thought, they would orbit around the planet at a much greater distance, since over time, the moons are slowly moving away from the planet under the influence of gravitational and other forces.

The study also found the moons are moving away from the planed faster than previously estimated. Since Saturn’s core is made out of rock and is 18 times larger than the Earth, it packs serious gravitational force. Since Saturn’s major moons are affecting the core with tidal forces, the core also employs a gravitational force, pushing the moons away from the planet. Smaller moons are affected by the planet’s core gravitational forces, disturbing their orbits, with them not exerting tidal forces on Saturn’s core.

Basically, the moons move away from the planet because of the gravitational push sent by tidal bulges. This is normal; the Earth’s moon is also pulling away from our planet, at the pace of around 1.5 inches per year.

Cassini probe is orbiting the Saturn since 2004, has helped to debunk lots of old theories regarding Saturn. The probe entered the final part of its mission a couple of days ago, diving around Saturn’s outer ring, once every 7 days, before it dives into the planet during 2017.