Saturn's rings could disappear in less than a 100 million years, much quicker than what was previously thought, CNN reported Tuesday.
The rings are being pulled apart by Saturn's gravity and onto the planet's surface as deluges of "ring rain," according to new NASA research.
"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 NASA's James O'Donoghue, lead author of the study. "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."
The rings are mostly composed of lumps of water ice that range in size from microscopic grains to boulders of several yards across, the space agency said.
The study indicates the rings were formed around the planet less than 100 million years ago, whereas previous research indicated they were some four billion years old.
"We are lucky to be around to see Saturn's ring system, which appears to be in the middle of its lifetime," O'Donoghue said. "However, if rings are temporary, perhaps we just missed out on seeing giant ring systems of Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune, which have only thin ringlets today."