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This image of Saturn and its rings was taken by Voyager 1 in 1980.
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Courtesy of NASA

Saturn's Rings

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. Even with their popularity, few people know much about them or why they are there.

Saturn's rings are made mostly of ice and rock particles. They look like one wide, colorful band, but they are actually well defined, smaller bands. The particles range in size from a couple centimeters to over a kilometer in size.

The rings are very thin. Although they reach diameters in the hundred thousands kilometers, they are no more than 1.5 km thick. So how can such a thin layer of ice pieces be so beautiful? The ice creates a rainbow effect much like a sprinkler does in the sun. The Sun's rays are refracted by the frozen water, giving us a colorful display!

An enormous new "ring" was discovered in 2009. The tenuous Phoebe Ring is about 100 times larger than the main ring system. The ice and dust in the ring apparently comes from the odd moon Phoebe, and may cause the strange coloration of the surface of Iapetus.


Last modified October 9, 2009 by Randy Russell.

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