The rings of Saturn are soon to disappear. This might sound extraordinary, but it’s a recurring phenomenon that happens approximately every 15 years. Let’s delve into the historical perspective: Galileo (1564–1642) was the first to observe them in the early 17th century. Back then, Saturn’s rings were majestic and shrouded in mystery.
Over time, astronomers have proposed various scenarios for their formation, involving comets, asteroids, or satellites misplaced and torn apart by Saturn’s gravitational forces, possibly colliding with each other. It’s suggested that these rings might have formed relatively recently, around 400 million years ago, and currently span a distance between 70,000 and 140,000 kilometers.
Towards the End of Saturn’s Rings?
Researchers caution that we should anticipate their disappearance. In millions of years? Through a gradual disintegration into a shower of ice fragments falling into the atmosphere of the gas giant? No. In approximately 18 months. During the year 2025!
It is, indeed, the inclination of the giant planet in its orbit around our Sun that is about to change. Aligning its rings perfectly with our field of vision. However, Saturn’s rings are thin—proportionally thinner than a sheet of paper. Therefore, attempting to spot them will be akin to trying to see a sheet of paper edge-on across a football field.
A Celestial Position That Obscures Saturn’s Rings
Precisely on March 23, 2025, Saturn’s inclination angle will drop to zero. This occurs approximately every 15 years, but the configuration may repeat several times. The next occurrences are on October 15, 2038, then on April 1, 2039, and again on July 9, 2039. Meanwhile, Saturn and its rings will be at their maximum inclination in 2032.