The truth about Saturn’s rings is that they’re a wonder of our solar system – One of the wonders of our solar system, one could say. But what are these rings? What are they made of? How big are they? Let’s find out.
But first, a bit about Saturn itself.
Saturn is the furthest planet from Earth that can be seen by the naked eye. It is the sixth planet in our solar system from the sun, and after Jupiter, it is the largest planet in the solar system. Another fun fact – Saturn is not a very dense planet. If you have a bathtub the size of Saturn (just go with us here) and fill it with water and place Saturn in it, Saturn will float! Yes, a humungous ball of gas is light enough to float in water.
But we’re here for the star of the show, the rings of Saturn. The rings were first observed by Galileo Galilei, an astronomer, in 1610. He was as amazed by their beauty as we are now. Let’s learn more about these rings and talk about the truth about Saturn’s rings.
Five Facts You Should Know about Saturn’s Rings
Looking for some interesting facts about one of the most interesting planets in our solar system? Well, here you go.
They Are Made Of Rock, Ice, and Dust
Saturn’s rings are made up of chunks of rock and ice that circle around the planet. Some of these chunks of rock and ice swirl around the planet at a distance of approximately 4300 miles from the equator, while some chunks drift around 50,000 miles away from the planet.
The rocks orbit the planet due to Saturn’s strong gravitational pull. They include chunks from the remains of asteroids, comets, and other types of space debris. The biggest ring that stretches around the planet (the E ring) actually spans an insane 200 times the diameter of Saturn itself!
In 1997, the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft was the first probe launched by NASA to explore the planet. It reached the planet in 2004 and has since collected more information on the planet that gives us a better understanding of how Saturn formed and how the rings came to be. For example, the probe’s information told us that the rings are made up of vertical rocks that can reach over 2 miles high. This shows that the common notion that Saturn’s rings are made up of smaller singular particles is not true.
Saturn’s Rings Are Named Alphabetically
The names of Saturn’s rings are based on when they were discovered. Currently, we’re up to the G ring, which means that we’ve only discovered 7 rings. The order of the rings from the planet to the edge is as follows – D, C, B, A, F, G, and E.
The D ring is a faint line that is barely visible to the naked eye. The E ring is the largest ring and is 200 times the diameter of Saturn’s diameter. Most of the rings are spaced very close together, which made discovery difficult at times. The only exception is between A and B, where the rings are around 4,700km (2,920 miles) apart. The spacing is due to the Cassini Division phenomena.
They Are Enormous but Thin
Even though the rings span an enormous distance in diameter, the average ring of the planet is around 100 yards in thickness. The ultra-thin design of the rings is caused mainly by particles that continue to strike each other. They can drop down after striking each other since the particles on the top have more energy than those that are closer to the center of the ring.
When the particles clash, the energy of the rocks is lost, and they drop lower. This turns the ring into a thin line.
Galileo Initially Thought that the Rings Looked Like Ears or Handles
When Galileo discovered the rings of Saturn in 1610, he suggested that they looked more like handles or ears than rings. After almost 50 years in 1656, Christian Huygens discovered that they weren’t ear-shaped, but rather, circled the entire planet in rings. Over the years, it was then discovered that Saturn didn’t have one gigantic ring, but rather, multiple (7 as of now) rings that circled the planet.
Saturn’s Rings Have Spinning Spokes
Scientists also discovered a phenomenon known as spokes. Spokes are the strange markings that often show up across the rings every few minutes. They last for around a few hours before they disappear. They were first discovered by the Voyager Spacecraft and then confirmed by Voyager 2 in 1981.
The markings stop forming when the rays of sunlight hit the rings. When Cassini photographed the gas giant, it noticed this bizarre phenomenon.
Other Facts about Saturn’s Rings
There are many other interesting details about Saturn that one should know. If you’re still hungry to know the truth about Saturn’s rings, here are some more amazing facts:
- Saturn can be seen through small telescopes or binoculars since it is the fifth brightest object in the solar system.
- People have known about Saturn since ancient times. The planet has been recorded by people dating as far back as Babylonian times.
- Saturn has a polar diameter of 90%, making it the flattest planet in the solar system.
- Saturn takes around 29.4 Earth years to orbit the sun once.
- The upper atmosphere of the planet is divided between bands of clouds, with the topmost layer made up of ammonia ice. The next layer is water ice, followed by sulfur ice and cold hydrogen.
- Similar to Jupiter, Saturn also has oval-shaped storms.
- Saturn is mostly made up of hydrogen that gets denser as you go farther into the planet. At the core, the hydrogen becomes more metallic and is hot.
- Saturn has the most extensive and detailed rings in the entire solar system. Other planets like Uranus also have rings, but they’re not near as visible as Saturn’s.
- Saturn has the most moons out of all the planets in the solar system. It has a huge total of 82 moons and many other small moonlets. The biggest moons are Rhea and Titan.
- Titan is known for its nitrogen-rich, dense, and complex atmosphere.
- A total of four spacecraft have been to Saturn. They are Voyager 1 and 2, Pioneer 11, and the Cassini-Huygens mission.
Saturn’s rings are a fascinating phenomenon that deserves more study and recognition. They look simply beautiful and are unique to the planet. The makeup of the rings has been the basis for many studies and probes, and the truth about Saturn’s rings will continue to fascinate and inspire the human race for years to come!