Saturn and three moons  (Source: NASA)
Saturn's rings are older and are recycled

The shimmering rings encircling Saturn could be older than originally thought, scientists confirmed during the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco, California.  It was believed Saturn's rings were only 100 million years old -- created at the same time dinosaurs ruled the Earth. 

The Cassini spacecraft's data has made scientists revisit the issue and say the rings could have been created up to 4.5 billion years ago -- around the same time the rest of the solar system formed.

The rings around Saturn have intrigued scientists as far back as Galileo's time in the early 1600s.  Saturn has seven large rings and thousands of tiny ringlets composed of ice, dust and rock fragments.

"The evidence is consistent with the picture that Saturn has had rings all through its history," said Larry Esposito, principal investigator for Cassini's Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph at CU-Boulder.  "We see extensive, rapid recycling of ring material, in which moons are continually shattered into ring particles, which then gather together and re-form moons."

Data gathered by the NASA Voyager mission and Hubble Space Telescope made scientists believe the rings were young, and created when a comet slammed into a moon and destroyed it.  It was also assumed meteoric dust pollution would make older rings much darker than newer rings.  The lighter color is due to a unique recycling event with the rings, and it was also unveiled some rings around Saturn are older than others.

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