Astronomers around the world are certainly already looking forward to May 2025. Because then Saturn’s rings will disappear – at least from our field of view. A phenomenon that occurs every 13 to 16 years.
Saturn: only the edge of the ring system is visible
The reason for this is that Saturn’s rotation axis is tilted in a similar way to Earth’s rotation axis. Therefore, there are also seasons on Saturn.
Twice during a Saturn year, which lasts about 30 years, the Sun is above the planet’s equator. So we only see the outer edge of Earth’s ring system.
Saturn’s rings will disappear in May 2025
As this ring system has a diameter of almost a million kilometers, but its vertical extension is only between 10 and 100 meters, the rings temporarily “disappear” from our field of view. This phenomenon is expected to peak on May 23, 2025.
A few months before and after, the seven large rings will no longer be visible or will barely be visible, as NASA researcher Amy Simon told CBS. This gives astronomers the opportunity to get a closer look at Saturn and its moons.
Saturn is currently the planet with the most satellites in our solar system, with 146 known moons – ahead of Jupiter. Saturn’s largest moon is Titan, with a diameter of about 5,150 kilometers.
Galileo Galilei interpreted rings as “handles”
Already at the beginning of the 17th century, Galileo Galilei observed Saturn more closely through a telescope for the first time. At the time, the polymath interpreted the rings as the “handles” of the planet. Only in 1655 did astronomer Christiaan Huygens realize that Saturn had one or more rings.
We now know that the rings do not consist of a single piece, but of a large number of pieces of ice and rock. However, there is still disagreement in research circles about the origin of the rings.
Disagreement over the origin of the rings
According to one theory, the rings were formed just 100 million years ago – a moon’s collision with the planet could have been responsible. However, other researchers assume that the rings are as old as Saturn itself, that is, more than four billion years old.
Consequently, they would have been formed from the material Saturn is made of. The proximity to the planet would then have prevented the formation of another moon from this material.
The rings eventually disappear completely
However, scientists agree that Saturn’s rings will be gone within a few million to a few hundred million years. According to observations, the rings lose several tons of mass every second.
Until then, the rings will likely be visible from Earth in all their glory – with interruptions every 13 to 16 years. Observing the planet is now possible with smaller telescopes.