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Saturn as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Photo: NASA/ESA

Saturn's rings may be more ancient than previously thought, according to a new analysis published in the journal Nature Astronomy this week.

Why it matters: The true age of the rings has major implications for the age of Saturn's moons. Many scientists think that Saturn's moon Enceladus is one of the places in our solar system most likely to host life, but if the moon is young, life may not have had enough time to develop.

What they found: Earlier studies have suggested that the rings are young, at about 10 million–100 million years old, based on estimates of their mass and appearance.

  • The rings themselves — which are thought to have been formed from water-ice — don't show evidence of a ton of pollution from meteoroids and dust falling onto the rings, suggesting a young age based on the rate of pollution expected from Cassini data.
  • However, the new study shows that it's possible that the rings just appear to be young: The bombardment rate of the rings by pollution may just be higher today than it was in the past, or the rings are able to somehow clean themselves over time, making them look younger than they are.
  • The analysis also suggests that the total mass of the rings today is more in line with models that produce an ancient system of rings around Saturn.

What's next: The mystery surrounding the age of Saturn's rings may never be solved definitively, but learning more about their eventual fate may be easier than piecing together its past, astronomer James O'Donoghue, who is unaffiliated with the new study, told Axios via email.

  • O'Donoghue and his team have calculated that, based on the rate that the ring particles are "raining" into Saturn's atmosphere, the planet's most distinctive feature only has about 300 million years left before they fade away.

Go deeper

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Kellyanne Conway's parting power pointers

Kellyanne Conway addresses the 2020 Republican National Convention. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

Kellyanne Conway has seen power exercised as a pollster, campaign manager and senior counselor to President Trump. Now that his term in office has concluded, she shared her thoughts with Axios.

Why it matters: If there's a currency in this town, it's power, so we've asked several former Washington power brokers to share their best advice as a new administration and new Congress settle in.

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GOP holdouts press on with plans to crush Cheney

Screenshot of emails to a member of Congress from individuals who signed an Americans for Limited Government petition against Rep. Liz Cheney. Photo obtained by Axios

Pro-Trump holdouts in the House are forging ahead with an uphill campaign to oust Rep. Liz Cheney as head of the chamber's Republican caucus even though Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told them to back down.

Why it matters: What happens next will be a test of McCarthy's party control and the sincerity of his opposition to the movement. Cheney (R-Wyo.) is seen as a potential leadership rival to the California Republican.

Democrats aim to punish House GOP for Capitol riot

Speaker Nancy Pelosi passes through a newly installed metal detector at the House floor entrance Thursday. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

House Democrats plan to take advantage of corporate efforts to cut funding for Republicans who opposed certifying the 2020 election results, with a plan to target vulnerable members in the pivotal 2022 midterms for their role in the Jan. 6 violence.

Why it matters: It's unclear whether the Democrats' strategy will manifest itself in ads or earned media in the targeted races or just be a stunt to raise money for themselves. But the Capitol violence will be central to the party's messaging as it seeks to maintain its narrow majorities in Congress.