Saturn's iconic rings likely formed about 4.4 billion years ago, shortly after the planet itself took shape, a new study suggests.
The origin of Saturn's ring system has long been the subject of debate, with some researchers arguing that it's a relatively young structure and others holding that it coalesced long ago, at roughly the same time as the gas giant's many satellites.
The new study, conducted using data gathered by NASA's Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft, strongly supports the latter scenario, researchers said here Tuesday (Dec. 10) at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.
Image : A new mosaic of Saturn and rings made by Cassini spacecraft, brightened version with contrast and color enhanced. Image released Nov. 12, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI.