Saturn’s moons — as well as some of its rings — did not form until 100 million years after the first dinosaurs roamed the Earth, according to a recent study published in the Astrophysical Journal.
Researchers at the SETI institute created a model that simulated the way the orbits of Saturn’s rings and moons changed over time. UPI reports. They found that the celestial bodies orbiting Saturn are greatly affected by the push and pull of gravitational forces — known at tidal interactions — between the planet’s inner liquid and the bodies closest to its surface.
These gravitational forces have altered all the rings and moons over time, causing them to shift or tilt at certain angles.
Some of the inner rings and moons, however, such as Rhea, Tethys, and Dione, showed much fewer changes than the outer ones, suggesting they were young in age and had not been around that long.
“Our best guess is that Saturn had a similar collection of moons before, but their orbits were disturbed by a special kind of orbital resonance involving Saturn’s motion around the Sun,” said lead author Matija Cuk, principal investigator at the SETI Institute, in a statement. “Eventually, the orbits of neighboring moons crossed, and these objects collided. From this rubble, the present set of moons and rings formed.”
The team also used data on the moon Enceladus’ geothermal activity to estimate the strength of Saturn’s tidal forces. They then combined that information with their model in order to measure the forces’ power, which they found to be quite strong.
The team estimates that the inner rings and moons formed no more than 100 million years ago — almost 130 million years after dinosaurs made their first appearance on Earth.