A dazzling denizen of the outer region of our Solar System, the gas-giant Saturn reigns supreme as the most beautiful planet in our Sun’s family. Flaunting its lovely system of gossamer rings, that are composed of a sparkling host of icy bits that frolic around their planet in a distant dance, this gas-giant planet is cloaked in captivating, majestic mystery. Saturn’s rings have kept their ancient secrets well. However, in January 2016, astronomers published their research results showing that they have found an answer to one of Saturn’s many secrets, after “weighing” Saturn’s B ring for the first time. The astronomers discovered that looks can be deceiving, because this ring contains less material than meets the eye–and this new research, determining the mass of Saturn’s rings, has important implications for revealing their true age, answering one of the most controversial questions in planetary science–are the rings young or old?
Saturn’s rings are named alphabetically according to the order in which they were discovered. The rings are designated, C, B, and A. The A-ring is the outermost, the C-ring is the innermost, while the B-ring is sandwiched between the two. There are also several dimmer rings that were detected more recently. The D-ring is the structure closest to its planet, and it is extremely faint. The thin F-ring is situated just outside of the A-ring, and beyond that there are two much fainter rings designated G and E. The rings show a great deal of structure on every scale, and some are influenced by jostling caused by Saturn’s many moons. However, much still remains to be explained about the nature of the rings.
The rings themselves create a very wide, slender, and gossamer expanse that is approximately 250,000 kilometers across–but less than tens of hundreds of meters thick. From a historical perspective, scientists have had a difficult time explaining the origin and age of Saturn’s rings. Some astronomers believe that they are very ancient, primordial structures that are as old as our 4.56 billion year old Solar System. However, other astronomers propose that they are really very youthful structures
The sparkling bits of ice that make up Saturn’s beautiful system of ethereal rings range in size from frozen smoke-size particles to boulders as big as some skyscrapers in New York City. These frigid, whirling, tiny tidbits pirouette in a faraway ballet as they orbit around Saturn, influencing one another, and twirling around together. The icy, frozen ring fragments are also influenced by their planet’s magnetosphere. The magnetosphere is defined as the region of a planet’s magnetic influence. The very tiny, icy tidbits are also under the irresistible influence of the larger of the 62 moons of Saturn. Custom Pendant
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft entered Saturn orbit on July 1, 2004, and soon began to obtain some very revealing pictures of this lovely, enormous planet, its many moons, and its famous rings. Even though, at first glance, Saturn appears to be a peaceful, placid planet when it is seen from a distance, closer observations reveal how very deceptive close-up observations of this distant world can be. Closer images derived from the Cassini probe unveiled what has been called the Great Springtime Storm that violently churned up Saturn in the first months of 2011. The powerful, whirling and furious tempest-like storm was reported by NASA on October 25, 2012. Indeed, this storm was so powerful that it displayed a huge cloud cover as large as Earth! Custom Championship Ring
Over the lengthy passage of Saturn’s 29-year-long orbit, our Star’s fiery and illuminating rays of brilliant light move from north to south over this enormous gaseous planet and its lovely rings–and then back again. The changing sunlight causes the temperature of the rings to vary from one season to the next. Fantasy Football Rings
The great Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei turned his small, and very primitive, telescope to the starlit sky in 1610, and became the very first person to observe Saturn’s rings. Even though reflection from the rings increases the brightness of Saturn, they cannot be observed from Earth with the naked eye, and Galileo was not able to observe them well enough to discover their true nature. Galileo wrote in a letter to the Duke of Tuscany that “[T]he planet Saturn is not alone, but is composed of three, which almost touch one another and never move nor change with respect to one another.” In 1612, the rings seemed to vanish. This is because the plane of the rings was oriented precisely at Earth. Galileo was bewildered and wondered if Saturn had “swallowed its children?” Here, Galileo was referring to a Greek and Roman myth in which Saturn (Greek, Cronus), devoured his own children in order to prevent them from overthrowing him. However, to Galileo’s amazement, the bewildering structure reappeared in 1613.
The Dutch mathematician and astronomer, Christiaan Huygens, in 1655, became the first to describe this bizarre structure as a disk whirling around Saturn. Huygens accomplished this by using a defracting telescope that he had made himself. This early telescope, primitive as it certainly was, was better than the one Galileo had used. Because of this, Huygens was able to observe Saturn, and he noted that it is encircled by a flat, slender ring that is not in direct contact with Saturn, and inclined to the ecliptic. The British scientist Robert Hooke was also an early observer of the rings of Saturn.
The Italian astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini determined that the rings of Saturn are composed of many smaller rings with gaps between them. Cassini made these remarkable observations in 1675, and the largest of these gaps was ultimately named in his honor–the Cassini Division. The Cassini Division is situated between the A-ring and the B-ring, and it is 4,800 kilometers wide.