Saturn is an iconic planet. Even in a small telescope, its beauty can inspire awe and wonder.
What is the source of this beauty? The Biblical perspective affirms that Saturn is one of the many ways in which the heavens declare the glory of God. The Lord who created the cosmos also populated it with wonders such as Saturn.
Of course, secular astronomers do not accept this view. Their models say that Saturn formed very early in the Solar System’s history, over four billion years ago.
What about the planet’s famous rings? Many astronomers say that the ring system must have formed at the same time that Saturn did. Indeed, this is a straightforward implication of their models for the formation of the Solar System.
But even among secular astronomers, this is not a unanimous view. A growing amount of evidence has accumulated which shows that the ring system cannot be billions of years old.
Saturn’s rings are made up of particles—from small grains all the way up to boulder-sized—which all orbit the planet together. These particles are mostly made up of water ice, which is why the rings are bright.
Most of our data about the rings comes from the Cassini-Huygens mission, which studied the Saturnian system closely for 13 years. One of the phenomena that the spacecraft measured is the infall of dust and other material into the rings, as Saturn moves through space.
Cassini found that the rings are accumulating a significant amount of dust. This incoming material darkens the rings over time.
However, the rings aren’t dark yet. This implies that there hasn’t been enough time for them to darken.
In other words, the rings must be young.
This has been known for some time. Despite this, some astronomers still held to the billions-of-years idea anyway. They wanted to rescue a long age for the rings, so they tried to explain away this evidence.
Now, after almost a decade of discussion, it appears the debate is finally over. Scientists have completed their analysis of the data produced by Cassini during its last days, and we now know that Saturn’s rings are not only getting darker over time, they’re also decaying.
Cassini discovered that the particles are swirling down onto Saturn in a process called “ring rain.” The rings are dissipating rapidly; the material raining down onto Saturn would fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool every 30 minutes or so.
For a planet of Saturn’s size, that might not seem significant. But although the rings are wide, they are razor-thin compared to the planet itself.
(If you built a large scale model of Saturn, and made it the size of a large city, then the rings would only be the thickness of a sheet of paper.)
Therefore, the rings don’t contain much material. And since they are rapidly losing the material they have, this process cannot go on for very long. Thus, the rings cannot be very old.
So what’s the maximum age for the rings? According to the recent study, the rings must be less than 100 million years old.
This doesn’t mean that they are 100 million years old. It means they must be younger than this.
So, an age of six thousand years works just fine.
Of course, secular scientists don’t want to accept a recent origin for the rings. (Any interpretation that’s consistent with Biblical creation is rejected.) Thus, most will assert an age of 100 million years or so, even though the evidence doesn’t require this.
Of course, skeptics could say that the evidence doesn’t require an age of only 6,000 years either. That’s true—no human was there when Saturn was formed, so we don’t know the initial conditions for the system. Therefore, we can’t pin down its precise age from this measurement alone.
But 6,000 years is consistent with what we see.
Furthermore, this discovery causes other problems for secular astronomers. It requires them to believe in (yet another) remarkable coincidence.
Secular models for the Solar System’s formation assume that it is over four billion years old. Four billion is four thousand (4,000) million.
But even according to the secular viewpoint, the rings can be, at most, one hundred (100) million years old. And 100 divided by 4,000 is 0.025.
In other words, the rings are just 2.5 percent of the alleged age of Saturn itself.
Therefore, if you’re a secular astronomer, here’s what you must believe:
- After 97.5 percent of the Solar System’s history had passed, Saturn finally formed the rings we see today.
- And these spectacular rings are decaying rapidly. They will last for a mere heartbeat of astronomical time.
Put another way, secular astronomers must believe in a remarkable coincidence—that Saturn formed its beautiful rings just before humans supposedly evolved to see them and appreciate their beauty, and the rings have lasted just long enough for us to do so.
To deny their Creator, secular scientists must believe in a long list of remarkable coincidences and just-so stories. Saturn’s rings aren’t the worst example of this—secular origins models include numerous claims that are far more egregious, including some flat-out impossibilities (such as the formation of life from non-loving chemicals).
Nevertheless, it is fascinating to see that the more we learn about the Universe, the longer this list becomes.