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Animation simulates close encounter between Earth and Saturn (Video)
Animation simulates close encounter between Earth and Saturn

Animation simulates close encounter between Earth and Saturn (Video)

This month Saturn is closer to the Earth then it will be all year, making it appear particularly bright in the night sky, Slate reports. But even at its closest, the ringed planet is 830 million miles away, rendering it just a dot to the unaided eye.

How would the giant gas planet, nine times wider than our own, appear to us if it were somehow closer to us than the moon?

As Phil Plait points out in his Bad Astronomer column for Slate, the video intentionally ignores the effect that Saturn’s gravity would have on the Earth—mostly because it would straight-up ruin us. First it would toss the Moon right out of Earth’s orbit (so much for that playdate), and then Saturn’s rings would start to heat up and form a comet-like stream beyond the planet. Meanwhile, this would also be happening:

By the time Saturn is at the same distance as the Moon, its tides would be many thousands of times stronger than the Moon’s. Fault lines would rupture, volcanoes would blow their tops, and anything left on the surface of the Earth would be wiped out.

And then comes the final blow. Judging from where we hit the rings, Nick depicts Saturn passing about 130,000 km from Earth. At closest approach, the tidal force Saturn wreaks on Earth would be a staggering 200,000 times the Moon’s! This distance is well inside Saturn’s Roche Limit, the distance from Saturn where the bigger planet’s tidal force is so strong it literally tears our planet apart.

You know that Twilight Zone episode where the Earth goes careening into the Sun? Imagine that, but a thousand times more ridiculous. So, it’s a good thing that Saturn’s staying right where it is for now.

Agencies/Canadajournal




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