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Scientists: Saturn spent billions of years without its rings

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A new study suggests Saturn flew solo for billions of years — almost its entire existence — before getting its stunning set of rings.

An Italian-led team reported Thursday in the journal Science that Saturn’s primary rings appear to be 10 million to 100 million years old. Saturn, on the other hand, is 4.5 billion years old, like all our solar system’s planets. The findings are based on observations by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft while flying between Saturn and its rings in 2017, before its demise.

By estimating the mass of the rings through gravity measurements, the researchers gauged the age. It’s still a mystery how the icy rings formed.

Lead researcher Luciano Iess (EE-ess) of Rome’s Sapienza University says the findings are “another gift we received from this beautiful mission.”

Marcia Dunn, The Associated Press