This image shows the different rings of Saturn. The dotted lines represent the paths of Saturn's moons.
Click on image for full size
Windows to the Universe original image
Ring Structure of Saturn
We have a lot to learn before we fully understand planetary rings. Saturn's rings are the brightest and therefore more famous than Jupiter's and Uranus' rings. The total number of rings is seven, and each one was given a letter between A and G for its name. Three of the rings, A, B and C, are visible from Earth with a telescope.
Saturn's rings were first discovered by Galileo in the 1600's, although at the time he didn't know what they were. In 1655, the astronomer Christian Huygens predicted that Galileo had seen rings. Later on, more powerful telescopes proved Huygens right.
In 1675, a scientist named Cassini found what appeared to be a gap between the A and B rings. This gap was later called the Cassini division. In the 1800's a third, faint ring was found and named C. It wasn't until 1979 that we found the E, F, and G rings, when the Pioneer 11 and Voyager spacecrafts flew by Saturn. They also found a smaller gap between the A and F rings, called the Encke division.
Two of Saturn's moons, Prometheus and Pandora, are called shepherd satellites. They are both tiny moons located on either side of the F ring. They work against each other, pushing the particles inside the F ring towards the middle of the ring. The result is a small, compact F ring.
An gigantic new "ring" was discovered in 2009. The Phoebe Ring is about 100 times bigger than the main ring system. Scientists think the ice and dust in the ring comes from the strange moon Phoebe. Particles from this ring might cause the strange coloration of the surface of Iapetus.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
Our online store
on science education, ranging from evolution
, classroom research
, and the need for science and math literacy
You might also be interested in:
Scientists recently discovered the origin of Jupiter's rings. With the help of the Galileo spacecraft, scientists figured out that the rings are made from dust that was kicked off of the small moons surrounding...more
The rare arrangement of planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune in the 1980's made it possible for the Voyager spacecrafts to visit them over a 12 year span instead of the normal 30. They used gravity...more
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...more
Many people like 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. But few people...more
A spacecraft named Cassini will study the planet Saturn for several years. Cassini blasted off from Earth in October 1997. After flying past Venus, Earth, and Jupiter, Cassini finally arrived at Saturn...more
A spacecraft named Cassini will get to Saturn on June 30, 2004. Cassini's rocket engine will burn for 96 minutes to slow the robot spaceship down. If it works, Cassini will be captured into orbit around...more
Pandora is a small moon of Saturn. It was discovered by S. Collins and others in 1980 from photos taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft. Pandora's name comes from Greek mythology. Pandora was the first woman,...more