Bob the Alien's Tour of the Solar System
Bob the Alien's Tour of the Solar System

Saturn's Rings

Saturn's rings

Saturn's rings are probably the most distinguishing feature of any planet in the Solar System. The width of the planet is just over 120,000 kilometres (74,000 miles), but the rings surrounding it increases this width to 270,000 kilometres (168,000 miles)!

As you can see in the photograph on the left, Saturn is surrounded by hundreds of multi-coloured rings. These rings spin around the planet, appearing like a gigantic vinyl record. Some rings are braided with other rings so they look as if they are knotted together. The rings are not solid Instead they are made up of rocks of ice. Most are incredibly tiny but some are as large as small islands. They are basically islands of ice floating around Saturn! The ice causes them to glisten and is what makes them so visible. Nobody is sure how Saturn came to have such amazing rings, although scientists believe that they are what is left of a moon or moons which used to orbit Saturn. They believe that something collided with the moon about 50 million years ago (which is quite recently in Saturn's history) and the debris (the small bits of rock and ice that made up the moon) spread out to form the rings of Saturn, still orbiting the planet. Scientists also believe that Saturn may lose its rings at some point in the distant future. They will either be sucked into the planet because of its gravitational pull, or they will get thrown out into space. This will not happen during our lifetimes though! It will probably be another 50 million years until the rings vanish.

Below you can see a picture of Saturn's F-ring. This is a very narrow ring that looks as if it is twisted around another ring! There are two moons (not in the picture) on either side of the ring which are known as 'Shepherd Moons.' They keep the F-ring in its orbit around Saturn, preventing the material from it spreading out into space. The other picture shows dark patches in the rings. These patches spin around with the rings, like spokes on wheels, and show us Saturn's magnetic field.

F-Ring Magnetic field evidence in Saturn's rings

Saturn is not the only planet in the Solar System to have rings. In fact, all four of the Gas Giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune) have ring systems. However, these other ring systems are extremely thin and almost impossible to see. The rings of Neptune are not even complete. Instead, the planet appears to have arcs orbiting it!

Bob the Alien's Tour of the Solar System
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