A Well-Groomed Planet: Saturn

Galaxies, the Solar System, and the Universe are beyond dreams… Every day marvels exceed the limits of the mind and fascinating new details as they are examined. In addition to many features of the Solar System that have been discovered and, there are still unexplored areas where the scientific world continues to work. As we research and question what has been discovered and increase our knowledge, we wanted to take a look at the enormous rings of Saturn, the interesting, admired, and unique planet of the Solar System, believing that we can open the doors to discover the secrets that have not yet been solved. What are the rings made of? Who discovered it? Since when do they accompany Saturn? Let’s examine it together in this article.

When and Who First Discovered the Rings Around Saturn?

Although Saturn’s rings were first noticed by Galileo Galilei in 1610, they were described by Christiaan Huygens in 1655. In his study, Galileo noticed that two small “ears” appeared on either side of the planet, which he could not understand, and reported that the planet had a “triple structure”. Huygens detected the presence of rings using a telescope with a magnification value of 50. Huygens, in his book Systema Saturnium, written in 1659, explained the tilt of the Saturn ring system and explained that the rings became invisible by coming to the same plane with the earth’s orbit twice during the 30-year cycle of the planet.

A04BA3CE 9B52 4CF0 B67F 1E4383CF4206

Giovanni Domenico Cassini realized that the rings of this special planet, which has the most impressive ring system in the Solar System, are separated in two by a gap, and they are known by his name today. Scientists have given much thought to the subject, made observations, discovered new rings and gaps, and named them after themselves. Edouard Albert Roche and Johann Encke are the other names that can come to mind in this field. The latest discoveries with the acceleration of technological developments and planetary investigations were done by sending the Cassini Space Probe to Saturn and the discovery of new previously undiscovered rings between the rings was accomplished. We owe our current detailed knowledge of Saturn’s ring system to data obtained during close passes by the unmanned spacecraft Pioneer 11(1979), Voyager 1(1980), and Voyager 2 (1981).

Theories About Rings

The first theory was produced by Édouard Roche in the 19th century. The theory is that the rings were once a moon of Saturn and were formed when the moon broke apart when it collided with a comet or asteroid. According to the second theory, the rings were particles left over from the original planetary nebula that formed Saturn. Both theories are not valid today.

What’s in the Component of the Rings?

While it is not known exactly when and how Saturn’s rings formed, scientists think that the formation of the rings may be related to Saturn’s moons. Saturn has at least 62 known moons. It is estimated that a nearby moon, an asteroid, or a comet may have formed the rings by breaking up with the strong gravitational effect of Saturn (Bilim Genç, 2016).

1E2FADE4 8C4B 4A43 B428 3101943A3443

Speaking of moons, a little note: Saturn’s moon Titan is the largest moon in the Solar System after Jupiter’s moon Ganymede. Much bigger than the moon!

Returning to our subject, the components of Saturn’s rings, the most important building block is frozen water; Relatively light elements such as carbon and silicon were found and more enriched compared to the solar nebula ratios. The high rate of atomic oxygen, which has been detected recently, has been interpreted as a sign of a recent violent collision since it is a component that is not unusual to be found in the free state and is considered short-lived. These data also make the scientific world think that the rings have an active evolutionary development. The tiny particles that make up each ring follow their own trajectory in accordance with Kepler’s laws. Thus, although the particles forming the inner parts of the rings closer to the planet, circulate faster and draw short-cycle ellipses, those in the outer orbits move more slowly (Wikipedia, 2021).

Is Saturn the Only Planet with a Ring in the Solar System?

No. Jupiter, Neptune, and Uranus also have rings, but since these rings are not as prominent as those of Saturn, these planets do not stand out with these features. There are many rings around Saturn and there are spaces between these rings. Therefore, the planet that gives us the most interesting rings and the most information regarding them is Saturn.

How Old Are the Rings?

Concluding that the main rings, which are claimed to be composed of ice, formed together with Saturn 4.4 billion years ago , scientists are talking about icy rings around -200 degrees. The remarkable point here is that they claim to contain the original chemistry of the Solar System! So how were the ages of these rings determined? Filacchione and his team analyzed photographs taken by Cassini in visible and infrared light, looking for colors that pollute the icy rings of Saturn. In particular, it was noticed that the inner and outer rings were in different colors and the color difference indicated that the rings contained additional chemicals.

E531270C 4048 4AE5 8B09 123750D88597

Do the Rings Have Names?

Doesn’t it! The scientists who defined the rings gave their names to some rings or spaces, and the rings were ordered with the help of letters in the alphabet. Their densities are different from each other. The main rings are called the A, B, and C rings. Secondary faint rings discovered later are called the F ring closest to the planet, the D ring just outside A, and the distant G & E rings. In other words, Saturn has seven rings consisting of thousands of small rings (D ring, C ring, B ring, A ring, F ring, G ring, and E ring, respectively, outward from the surface of the planet). Apart from these, there are much paler dust rings and different structures and separations within the main rings. You can examine the image and discover the rings.

References and Further Reading

Alptekin, B. (2018). Detailed Ring Structure of Saturn. Cosmic Vortex.

Demircan, K. (2017). How Saturn’s Rings Formed.

Sarigul, T. (2016). Why Are There Rings Around Saturn? ScienceYoung. :

Wikipedia. (2021). Saturn’s rings.

Images not cited are  used through Canva Pro with a royalty payment.

The proofreading has been done by Asu Pelin Akköse and Mete Esencan.

Would you like to support us? 

  • If you wish, you can support us by making a monthly or one-time donation via our Patreon account.

I Would Like To Support You!

  • For more detailed information, you can check our “Support Us!” page!

Sima Türküner

Hello there! I'm Sima Turkuner. I am a Political Science and Public Administration student at METU. I love to research, learn and share what I have learned. I would like to share with you my articles on topics that I find interesting.

Related Articles

Back to top button