Saturn has been admired since ancient times for its beautiful, mysterious rings, giving it the appearance of a lovely jewel hanging in the heavens above. Many theories have been proposed for the formation of these wonderful rings, the latest of which being that the rings are the remnants of an ancient moon.
The theory suggests that Saturn was orbited by a large moon which lost its icy outer layer before its rocky inner part went plunging into the surface of the giant planet. These icy fragments continued to circle the solar system’s second largest planet, eventually spewing off small moons of its own. The estimate for the date of this event is said to be about 4.5 billion years ago.
Robin Canup is a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Ms. Canup explains the logic of the theory in the following way. “Not only do you end up with the current ring, but you can also explain the inner ice-rich moons that haven’t been explained before.”
Canup is the author of the paper detailing particulars of the theory which appears on the December 12th internet edition of the journal Nature.