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Rings of Saturn: Leftovers from a cosmic murder?

WASHINGTON (AP) — One of the solar system's most evocative mysteries — the origin of Saturn's rings — may be a case of cosmic murder, new research suggests.

The victim: an unnamed moon of Saturn that disappeared about 4.5 billion years ago.

The suspect: a disk of hydrogen gas that once surrounded Saturn when its dozens of moons were forming, but has now fled the crime scene.

The cause of death: A forced plunge into Saturn.

And those spectacular and colorful rings are the only evidence left. As the doomed moon made its death spiral, Saturn robbed its outer layer of ice, which then formed rings, according to a new theory published online Sunday in the journal Nature.

"Saturn was an accomplice and that produced the rings," said study author Robin Canup, an astronomer at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo.

The mystery of Saturn's rings "has puzzled people for centuries," said Cornell astronomer Joe Burns, who wasn't involved in the study and said Canup's new theory makes sense.

One of the leading theories has been that either some of Saturn's many moons crashed into each other, or an asteroid crashed into some of them — leaving debris that formed the rings. The trouble is Saturn's moons are half ice and half rock and the planet's seven rings are now as much as 95 percent ice and probably used to be all ice, Canup said. If the rings were formed by a moon-on-moon crash or an asteroid-on-moon, there would be more rocks in the rings.

Something had to have stripped away the outer ice of a moon, a big moon, Canup said.

So her theory starts billions of years ago when the planets' moons were forming. A large disk of hydrogen gas circled Saturn and that helped both create and destroy moons. Large inner moons probably made regular plunges into the planet, pulled by the disk of gas.

These death spirals took about 10,000 years and the key to understanding the rings' origins is what happened to them during that time. According to Canup's computer model, Saturn stripped the ice away from a huge moon while it was far enough from the planet that the ice would be trapped in a ring.

The original rings were 10 to 100 times larger than they are now, but over time the ice in the outer rings has coalesced into some of Saturn's tiny inner moons, Canup said. So what began as moons has become rings and then new moons.


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From The Urantia Book...once again, science is discovering what Urantia Book readers already know:

57:6.5 Shooting stars occur in swarms because they are the fragments of larger bodies of matter which have been disrupted by tidal gravity exerted by near-by and still larger space bodies. Saturn's rings are the fragments of a disrupted satellite. One of the moons of Jupiter is now approaching dangerously near the critical zone of tidal disruption and, within a few million years, will either be claimed by the planet or will undergo gravity-tidal disruption. The fifth planet of the solar system of long, long ago traversed an irregular orbit, periodically making closer and closer approach to Jupiter until it entered the critical zone of gravity-tidal disruption, was swiftly fragmentized, and became the present-day cluster of asteroids.

4,000,000,000 years ago witnessed the organization of the Jupiter and Saturn systems much as observed today except for their moons, which continued to increase in size for several billions of years. In fact, all of the planets and satellites of the solar system are still growing as the result of continued meteoric captures.

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