A careful analysis of data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft reveals that Saturn’s moons and rings are “vintage” goods from around the time of our solar system’s birth, according to a space agency news release. The planet’s moons and rings date back more than 4 billion years.
According to Gianrico Filacchione, a Cassini participating scientist at Italy’s National Institute for Astrophysics, examining Saturn helps scientists learn about the chemical and physical evolution of our solar system. Painting an accurate picture of this evolution means “piecing together the relationships intertwining these bodies.”
Utilizing its infrared range, Cassini’s visual and infrared mapping spectrometer found a lot of water ice, too much to have been left by comets or other recent means. This led the authors to conclude that the water ices must have formed around the time of our solar system’s birth, because Saturn circles the sun beyond the “snow line.” Outside the snow line, the cold environment helps preserve water ice.