Saturn's spectacular rings won't last forever. Image Credit: NASA
A new study has revealed that Saturn's rings may be slowly falling on to the gas giant as 'ring rain'.
One of our solar system's most beautiful and cherished spectacles, the rings of Saturn are comprised of countless icy particles ranging in size from a few millimeters to several meters across.
Originally thought to have formed 4.5 billion years ago during the earliest days of the solar system, the rings are now believed to be much more recent - perhaps only a hundred million years old - and were formed from the debris left over from a collision between Saturn and a small icy body such as a moon.
While it is difficult to imagine Saturn without its rings, a new study lead by NASA's James O'Donoghue has highlighted the likelihood that they could be gone entirely within a relatively short time frame.
The research describes a process through which the ice particles that make up the rings are being gradually pulled towards Saturn by the planet's gravity, producing what is known as ring rain.
Eventually - within another 300 million years at most - the rings will have disappeared entirely.