December 20, 2018 | David F. Coppedge

Saturn, the Bringer of Youth

More discoveries of youthful phenomena contradict Gustav Holst’s musical tribute to “Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age.”

Recent analyses of Cassini data continue the theme of Saturn’s music, which is more like Peter Pan than Holst. As you interpret the following news stories, keep in mind that the moyboy ages are upper limits. They could be much lower. What surprises planetary scientists is that these phenomena exist at a time when humans can observe them. If they were billions of years old, how could that be?

Saturn and its rings as seen by Cassini, April 25, 2016.

Young Rings

Saturn’s Rings Are Beautiful, But They Won’t Last (Space.com). “But if you could travel 300 million years into the future, you would need to, because by then, chances are those rings would be gone — and they could disappear even faster.

Saturn Is Losing Its Rings (Live Science). “We are lucky to be around to see Saturn’s ring system, which appears to be in the middle of its lifetime,” lead author James O’Donoghue. Ring rain is only one drain on Saturn’s rings, reports Meghan Bartels. The scientists measured such a high rate of loss, it implies the rings are losing “a huge amount of the icy rings, between 925 and 6,000 lbs. (420 to 2,800 kilograms) every second.” But there’s more:

The fate of the rings looks even grimmer considering research published earlier this year using Cassini data, which looked at a different, still-more-voluminous, type of infall from Saturn’s rings that’s descending into the planet. O’Donoghue and his co-authors didn’t include that infall in the estimates presented in their paper, but suggested in an accompanying statement that the two phenomena combined could gorge through the rings in more like 100 million years.

Saturn is losing its rings at ‘worst-case-scenario’ rate (Science Daily and NASA Astrobiology Magazine). Particles are being drawn into Saturn hourly in a process called “ring rain.” Looking back over time, the scientists give the rings a maximum age of 100 million years – just 1/45th the assumed age of Saturn. What happened so that we see them in the human era of telescopes? See the problem discussed in video clips from NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center. After explaining ring rain, the narrator puts an upper limit on age of 100 million years for the rings. He says, “This means Saturn wasn’t born this way, as the planet is known to be over 4 billion years old.” But is that really known? Nobody was there to measure it. Believing in 4 billion years creates a conundrum of explaining how Saturn got its rings so recently. These are incompatible beliefs.

“We estimate that this ‘ring rain’ drains an amount of water products that could fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool from Saturn’s rings in half an hour,” said James O’Donoghue of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “From this alone, the entire ring system will be gone in 300 million years, but add to this the Cassini-spacecraft measured ring-material detected falling into Saturn’s equator, and the rings have less than 100 million years to live.This is relatively short, compared to Saturn’s age of over 4 billion years.” O’Donoghue is lead author of a study on Saturn’s ring rain appearing in Icarus December 17.

A recent origin for Saturn’s rings from the collisional disruption of an icy moon (Icarus). The latest attempt to solve the ring age problem comes from John Dubinski. In this paper, he calls on the planetologist’s favorite tool – an impact – to get the rings to form just when humans can see them. Simultaneously, it solves the heat problem for Enceladus. Convenient for him, there is no way to prove it, because the Mimas-size impactor was never observed.

Dione, Tethys, Pandora and Saturn’s rings from Cassini, Sept 22, 2005

Young Moons

Enceladus is mentioned in the above articles as another body constantly losing material to Saturn. “The team also discovered a glowing band at a higher latitude in the southern hemisphere,” NASA Goddard says. “This is where Saturn’s magnetic field intersects the orbit of Enceladus, a geologically active moon that is shooting geysers of water ice into space, indicating that some of those particles are raining onto Saturn as well.” From there, the article sidesteps the problem of Enceladus’ age, preferring a hydrobioscopic dodge about possible life on Enceladus.

Long-term stability of Enceladus’ uneven ice shell (Icarus). This paper by European planetologists tries to keep Enceladus old, despite those hundred-some-odd geysers blasting material out to space every hour, creating the E-ring around Saturn and losing some of that ice to Saturn itself. They invent a model that keeps the ice shell in a steady state, but that doesn’t explain why heat flow up to 60 watts per square meter is coming out of that little bitty moon, the diameter of Arizona or Iowa (not that those states are little bitty, but that’s small for a solar system object).

Implications of nonsynchronous rotation on the deformational history and ice shell properties in the south polar terrain of Enceladus (Icarus). One of the conclusions of this paper is that “Enceladus’s tiger stripes are on the order of 100,000 years old.” That’s a wildly young age for standard views of the age of the solar system. Why did it happen that recently instead of billions of years ago?

Artwork of the Cassini spacecraft flying through the geyser plumes of Enceladus.

Orbital evolution of Saturn’s mid-sized moons and the tidal heating of Enceladus (Icarus). Here’s another attempt to keep Enceladus old, this time by Japanese scientists using N-body simulations. Right off the bat, though, they identify two problems: tidal forces that should pull the inner moons into Saturn over time, and the Enceladus geysers that shouldn’t be there. Tidal heating, they say, is “orders of magnitude” too low to keep that small moon’s inferred ocean liquid. Their simulations “may” explain how these problems could be surmounted, but their model falls far short of proof. In the end, they call for ‘future study” of the possibilities.

The formation and orbital evolution of Saturn’s inner mid-sized moons – Rhea, Dione, Tethys, Enceladus, and Mimas – are still debated. The most puzzling aspects are 1) how the Tethys–Dione pair and the Mimas–Enceladus pair passed through their strong 3:2 mean-motion resonances during the tidal orbital evolution, and 2) the current strong heat flow from Enceladus, which is a few orders of magnitude higher than the tidal energy dissipation caused by the present orbital eccentricity of Enceladus.

Saturn’s moon Dione Covered by Mysterious Stripes (NASA Astrobiology Magazine). Parallel lines and intersecting lines on the surface of Dione are “unlike anything else we’ve seen in the Solar System,” says one planetary scientist. The material making the lines, dubbed “linear virgae,’ could be coming “from Saturn’s rings, passing comets, or co-orbital moons Helene and Polydeuces.” Ignore the astrobiological speculation inserted without justification. Whatever the stripes are, “they are among the youngest surfaces on Dione” says Alex Patthoff, co-author of a paper on Geophysical Research Letters. The paper says, “Here we seek to constrain whether the linear virgae are endogenic, suggesting that the surface of Dione has been geologically active recently or if they are exogenic, suggesting a recent, or even ongoing, process in the Saturn system.” They argue for the latter, but either way, they’re young.

Next Young Object?

Looking ahead, the New Horizons spacecraft that found Pluto looking much younger than expected (16 July 2018) is due to reach its next target, Ultima Thule, on New Year’s Day (BBC News). The 30-km-wide object will be the most distant body in our solar system seen up close. Any bets on how young this object will appear?

They’re still not taking our proposed compromise. We’ll give them 100 million years, if they accept that as the age of the solar system. No takers? Strange. Must be because that is not nearly enough time for Darwinism on Earth.

I’ve been following the ring problem for many years. I wrote my first paper about it in a solar system astrophysics class back in December 1989, 29 years ago this month. I read each article about it by ringmasters Jeff Cuzzi, Larry Esposito, Carolyn Porco and others in Sky and Telescope and Astronomy magazines. When the internet made scientific papers accessible, I followed the current thinking each year. At JPL I got to meet some of the ringmasters and hear their talks. They knew of all the erosional processes since Voyager days, but kept hoping a mechanism would be found to keep the rings old. Nothing worked. As a member of the Cassini team, I followed the new discoveries about ring age. Now, we see that the erosion is faster than earlier thought. The evidence is now unquestionable: the rings are young. These articles didn’t even mention micrometeoroid bombardment, sputtering, collisional spreading and other processes that should destroy the rings in short order.

Are you seeing a trend in the solar system? Everything seems to be “younger than thought.” In biology, complex organisms and traits keep appearing “earlier than thought.” Both trends bring bad news to old-age Darwinian materialists.

 

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