April 23, 2019 | David F. Coppedge

Debate Is Over: Saturn Is Young

Scientists have run out of options to keep Saturn and its rings and moons billions of years old. It’s time to face the music.

The most significant finding of the Cassini mission may be the realization that the Saturn system is young. By “young,” one can even accept the current estimate that the rings are 100 million years old. That’s still young.

To see why this is shocking, look at the following timeline, starting at left with the assumed age of the solar system, 4.5 billion years ago. What happened 44/45ths of the way down the timeline to create rings just 100 million years ago?

BYA = billions of years ago. mya = millions of years ago

Secular scientists do not like this picture. To have Saturn’s beautiful rings appear just before humans evolved to witness them seems like a philosophically repugnant case of special pleading. Maybe they could tolerate one case, but as shown below, the rings are not the only aspects of the Saturn system that appear young. How can they deal with this?

“I see a lot of impossible geologic things… None of it makes sense!” —Eric Asphaug

One way is to keep the door open for future discoveries that could rescue the old date. Like Gustav Holst playing “Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age” in The Planets, Nadia Drake clings to the beloved 4.5 BYA date in her headline on Live Science, “How Old Are Saturn’s Rings? The Debate Rages On.” Actually, though, the debate is over. The only ones raging are the scientists having to face the music that Saturn is, instead, the bringer of youth. None of the scientists mentioned in Drake’s article offer a plausible way to keep the rings old, even though that would be their preferred option: “Making such an expansive ring system so recently, it turns out, is no small task; the odds are stacked against it.”

Cassini dives through the gap between the D Ring and Saturn during its Grand Finale before burning up in Saturn’s atmosphere on September 15, 2017.

Not Just Rings

Drake expands the youthfulness problem to the moons. Calling the Saturn system a “cornucopia of weirdness,” she quotes planetary scientist Eric Asphaug:

“I see a lot of impossible geologic things. I see a planet that should look like Callisto, but instead looks like Titan. I see satellites that shouldn’t exist like Enceladus and Mimas, that have heavy cratering histories—whether that means they’re old or not, we don’t know. And then you see Enceladus going off like a rocket, and it’s the most reliably eruptive body in the solar system, and that doesn’t make any sense to me as a geologist,” Asphaug says. “Mimas gets more tidal heating than Enceladus and it’s dead as a doornail! None of it makes sense!”

Briefly, here are the problems with ascribing old ages to these bodies:

  • Titan has almost no craters, possesses a dense atmosphere with a methane budget that could only last 10-100 million years.
  • Enceladus, a tiny moon that should be solid ice, erupts steadily with 2.6 times the heat of Yellowstone (7 March 2011).
  • Output from Enceladus creates a large E-ring around Saturn strong enough to measurably affect the magnetosphere.
  • Mimas, a similar sized moon, is “dead as a doornail” even though it gets more tidal heating than Enceladus.
  • Craters do not tell time. Whether cratering histories reveal that moon surfaces are “old or not, we don’t know.”
  • Iapetus “resembles a walnut due to a bizarre equatorial ridge and flattened poles” that should have circularized by now.
  • Phoebe orbits in the wrong direction and creates a “Phoebe ring” of fine dust that challenges long ages.
  • Saturn has a hexagonal feature in its north pole, seen by Voyager 23 years earlier, that persists.
  • Cassini scientists detected “ring rain” hitting Saturn’s atmosphere, and echoes of micrometeorites eroding the ring.
  • The rings are much brighter than they should be after millions of years. Dust pollution would make them darker.
  • There are not enough comets around to justify an unlikely collision forming the rings.

“How do you get material from that kind of collision back into low orbits where the rings are, and how do you get that material to be only ice?” Canup asks.

Diagram of Saturn's E-ring created by Enceladus

Diagram of Saturn’s E-ring created by Enceladus

The Bottom Line

Drake’s article goes back and forth between old-ring possibilities and young-ring possibilities, with no resolution. The frustration is palpable. Committed to the idea of billions of years, the scientists are dumbfounded by what Cassini has revealed. One scientist has an interesting term for the “tricky” situation. She calls it “interesting.”

“The rings just happen to have the exact mass that one would expect if they had been colliding and spreading for four billion* years,” [Robin] Canup says. And when Cassini observations simultaneously support old rings and young rings, albeit in different ways, landing on a final answer is tricky.

“When you have predictions or interpretations that are independent and end up being at odds with each other, it gets interesting,” she says.

*Not true. Much more is happening to erode the rings than colliding and spreading: meteoroid strikes, sputtering, gas drag into Saturn, sunlight pressure, and tugs from moons. They are also too bright to be billions of years old.

Drake tries the “laundry list fallacy” to keep the debate open: i.e., listing possibilities to keep the rings old, or to form them recently. But if each item in a laundry list has a low probability, or conflicts with other observations, such a list does not help. Watch the perhapsimaybecouldness index skyrocket:

The solutions to Saturn’s mysteries, perhaps, lie in the realm of planetary dynamics, where simulations of gravitational interactions reconstruct the past (and future) of what we observe today. Or the answer might rely on laboratory-based examinations of high-speed collisions between dark dust and icy particles, to determine how exactly dust colors ice. It might mean reexamining assumptions about how likely it is for a comet to have a fateful encounter with Saturn. Or, it might require a more detailed analysis of the cratered surfaces of Saturn’s retinue of inner moons, to better know their true ages, perhaps by another spacecraft sent to roam the planet’s neighborhood.

Ringmaster Esposito, who has studied planetary rings his entire career, gives the bottom line:

“That old idea that the rings are ancient and have been steadily bombarded by polluting material that’s the same as we see today? That idea won’t work,” says Larry Esposito, at the University of Colorado Boulder. “But what possible mechanism could form rings to recently? No existing theory is satisfactory.”

The debate rages on only by force of will to find some way, any way, to counteract the clear, bright evidence Cassini delivered.

To understand the scientists’ predicament, you have to understand the philosophy and history behind it. To them, the assumed age of the solar system (4.5 billion years) is a given. It is not in debate. But why? Why not simply conclude, “Well, apparently Saturn is no older than 100 million years” and leave it at that? The answer is that old ages were invented to give Darwin time to evolve human beings from bacteria that emerged by chance from a warm little pond. If Saturn (and by extension, the solar system) were no older than 100 million years, believing in Darwinism would be preposterous. Like Tareyton smokers, they would rather fight than switch.

Test this statement. Tell the Cassini scientists, “As a creationist, I’m willing to give you more time. Tell you what. I’ll grant you 100 million years for Saturn if you will come down from 4.5 billion and meet me there. Wouldn’t that solve all your problems with the rings, Titan, and Enceladus?” They will never do it. So hardened is their commitment to Darwinism, it would destroy their entire worldview. But Darwinism doesn’t work anyway! The whole worldview is bullet-ridden with problems in every field of science, as we have shown for 19 years. Planetary scientists need some serious deprogramming out of the obligate moyboy mindset. There’s any easy cure for an unworkable worldview. Change it.




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  • John15 says:

    While perhaps these interesting things might have been individually known before now, having such a wonderful collection of these observational and evidentiary proofs of youth gathered in one collection will prove to be extremely useful. And I pray also convincing to those whose hearts are being touched by truth opposing deeply ingrained beliefs. Perhaps (sorry) these people may be aware of these things in a limited fashion, but have never been lovingly confronted with the totality of these facts. The Spirit must convert, but I believe the Comforter also will supply clarity and open eyes so that they may see the truth of Christ’s creation. (John 9:35-38; Romans 1:20).

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