Can you imagine Mars with Saturn-like rings?

NASA says it may be another 70 million years before the next Mars rings form

Mars' two moons, Phobos and Deimos//NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems/Texas A&M Univ.

It’s hard to fathom and may be even harder for it to happen but a couple NASA-funded scientists say Mars might have had Saturn-like rings around it in the past and may have them again sometime in the distant future.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab said Purdue University scientists David Minton and Andrew Hesselbrock developed a model that suggests debris that was pushed into space from an asteroid or other body slamming into Mars around 4.3 billion years ago alternates between becoming a planetary ring and clumping together to form a moon.

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The findings, published in the journal Nature Geoscience said that one theory suggests that Mars' large North Polar Basin or Borealis Basin -- which covers about 40% of the planet in its northern hemisphere -- was created by that impact, sending debris into space.

"That large impact would have blasted enough material off the surface of Mars to form a ring," Hesselbrock said.

The scientists said as the ring formed, and the debris slowly moved away from the Red Planet and spread out, it began to clump and eventually formed a moon. Over time, Mars' gravitational pull would have pulled that moon toward the planet until the planets’ tidal forces broke it apart.

Even now, Phobos, one of Mars' moons, is getting closer to the planet and if the theory holds true, it too will break apart and become a set of rings -- in roughly 70 million years.

Minton and Hesselbrock believe this cycle may have repeated between three and seven times over billions of years. Each time a moon broke apart and reformed from the resulting ring, its successor moon would be five times smaller than the last, according to the model, and debris would have rained down on the planet, possibly explaining otherwise inexplicable sedimentary deposits found near Mars' equator.

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