The Phoebe ring is too dim to be seen. It was detected at infrared wavelengths by the Spitzer space telescope. This image is an artist's depiction. Note that Saturn and its other, closer rings, shown in an inset, are just a small dot at the size scale of the Phoebe ring.
Click on image for full size
Image courtesy of NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.
The Phoebe Ring Around Saturn
The Phoebe Ring is much larger than Saturn's other rings. Saturn's main ring system starts a few thousand kilometers above the top of Saturn's atmosphere and extends outward a few hundred thousand kilometers. The Phoebe Ring is roughly 100 times larger than the main ring system; it extends from about 6 million to about 12 million km above Saturn's cloudtops.
Saturn's moon Phoebe orbits within this ring and appears to be the source of the material that makes up the ring. The Phoebe Ring is very tenuous and has not yet been seen with visible light. The infrared Spitzer Space Telescope was able to detect the faint Phoebe Ring in IR images. The ring is composed of tiny flecks of ice and dust, probably knocked loose from Phoebe's surface by meteorite impacts over many millennia.
Saturn's main ring system lies within the planet's equatorial plane. The Phoebe Ring 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 it are very bright, while other areas are quite dark. Perhaps 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.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
Our online store
includes issues of NESTA's quarterly journal, The Earth Scientist
, full of classroom activities on different topics in Earth and space science, ranging from seismology
, rocks and minerals
, and Earth system science
You might also be interested in:
Many people are fascinated by Saturn's rings. Although Saturn isn't the only planet with rings, it is the only planet famous for them. Almost every image or drawing of the planet has the rings included....more
The dramatic appearance of Saturn stems mainly from the spectacular rings. What is visible of the atmosphere is much less dramatic. The clouds of Saturn are much less colorful than those of Jupiter. This...more
Meteors are streaks of light, usually lasting just a few seconds, which people occasionally see in the night sky. They are sometimes called "shooting stars" or "falling stars", though they are not stars...more
Like the inner planets and Jupiter, Saturn is clearly visible in the night sky. The ancient Greeks named the planet after the god of agriculture and time. It wasn't until 1655, however, that we knew Saturn...more
The Giant planets do not have the same layered structure that the terrestrial planets do. Their evolution was quite different than that of the terrestrial planets, and they have less solid material inside....more
Saturn's magnetosphere is not as big as Jupiter's, but is very large nonetheless. It extends well beyond the orbits of Saturn's moons. It is probably generated in the same manner as is Jupiter's, which...more
There's a lot of strange and interesting stuff going on at both the North and South Poles of Saturn. Features at the poles of two of Saturn's moons, Titan and Enceladus, have also grabbed the attention...more