Here's what it looks like when meteors collide with Saturn's rings

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/Cornell

We're pretty accustomed to seeing shooting stars and meteorites here on Earth. But what do typical meteorite collisions look like on other planets? NASA recently released photos taken by the Cassini spacecraft between 2009 and 2012 that show meteorites colliding with Saturn's ring system.

According to NASA scientists, this is the first time astronomers have gotten to see such collisions with Saturn's rings. Until now, the only places stargazers have directly observed collisions with space rocks were Earth, the Moon, and Jupiter.

By studying the rate and speed of the meteor collisions, scientists can understand more about how planet systems within the solar system formed. Additionally, these collisions help give astronomers clues as to how old Saturn's rings are. As Jeff Cuzzi, an interdisciplinary scientist for the Cassini mission at NASA’s Ames Research Center, adds:

“Saturn's rings are unusually bright and clean, leading some to suggest that the rings are actually much younger than Saturn. To assess this dramatic claim, we must know more about the rate at which outside material is bombarding the rings. This latest analysis helps fill in that story with detection of impactors of a size that we weren't previously able to detect directly.”

The image at top shows clouds of dust that form when meteors—which are about the size of the one that broke up over Russia earlier this year—come apart as they encounter Saturn's rings. Head on over to NASA's Cassini site to learn more about these collisions.

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