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This is how an artist thinks the Phoebe ring might look if we could see it. The Spitzer space telescope spotted the Phoebe ring. Spitzer can "see" infrared "light". Saturn and the other rings are just a tiny dot compared to the Phoebe ring. The inset picture shows Saturn magnified.
Click on image for full size
Image courtesy of NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.

The Phoebe Ring Around Saturn

The Phoebe Ring is one of the rings around the planet Saturn. The Phoebe Ring is much bigger than Saturn's other rings. It is about 100 times larger than the main ring system.

Saturn's moon Phoebe orbits within this ring. The ring is made up of tiny pieces of ice and dust. The ring particles probably come from Phoebe. They were probably knocked loose from Phoebe's surface by meteorite impacts over many, many years. Even though the Phoebe Ring is very large, there isn't much stuff in it. We can't see the Phoebe Ring in visible light, even using the world's most powerful telescopes. The Spitzer Space Telescope was able to detect the faint Phoebe Ring using infrared "light".

Saturn's main ring system is lined up with the planet's equator. The Phoebe Ring, on the other hand, is tilted 27. Part of the Phoebe Ring crosses the orbit of another moon of Saturn, Iapetus. The surface of Iapetus is odd. Parts of the moon's surface are very bright, while other areas are very dark. Scientists think icy Iapetus is being splattered with dark particles from the Phoebe Ring. Phoebe itself has one of the darkest surfaces in our Solar System.

The ring was discovered by Anne Verbiscer and Michael Skrutskie of the University of Virginia and Douglas Hamilton of the University of Maryland. They announced their discovery on October 6, 2009.

Last modified October 9, 2009 by Randy Russell.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA