“Water ice, along with the newly discovered organic compounds, is falling out of the rings way faster than anyone thought — as much as 10,000 kilograms of material per second,” Waite said in a statement. “The downpour coming from the rings included plenty of water as well as molecules like butane and propane — the kind of chemicals you might use for a grill or camping stove.”
Cassini’s ion neutral mass spectrometer and other instruments detected an infall rate of 10,000 kilograms (22,000 pounds) per second. That’s enough to completely deplete Saturn’s D ring in only 100,000 years, as long as the infall rate remains constant. The instrument also detected a high composition of carbon (more than 50 percent by mass) within the rings. This surprised scientists because they expected to see the lighter compounds of helium and hydrogen, which are both abundant elements in Saturn’s atmosphere.
“Saturn has a higher carbon/hydrogen ratio than Jupiter does, and the Cassini data indicate that if the current rate of inflow were sustained for millions of years, then the ring material could fully account for that enhancement,” Miller told Seeker. “If the inflow rate is variable, the inflow may still significantly contribute to the enhancement, depending on its time-averaged rate.”