This image of Saturn and its rings was taken by Voyager 1 in 1980.
Click on image for full size
Courtesy of NASA
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.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
Our online store
includes fun classroom activities
for you and your students. Issues of NESTA's quarterly journal, The Earth Scientist
are also full of classroom activities on different topics in Earth and space science!
You might also be interested in:
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....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 Cassini probe began its journey to Saturn on October 15, 1997. It flew by Earth in August, 1999, before heading towards the distant planet. Cassini passed Jupiter in 2000 and then burned towards its...more
Jupiter has a series of rings circling it! Unlike Saturn's rings, which are clearly visible from Earth even through small telescopes, Jupiter's rings are very difficult to see. So difficult, in fact, that...more
The Cassini spacecraft, en route to Saturn, will zoom past Saturn's odd moon Phoebe on June 11, 2004. Cassini will pass within 2,000 km (1,243 miles) of the moon's surface and should send back images with...more
The Cassini spacecraft will arrive at Saturn on June 30, 2004. Cassini's engine will make a critical 96-minute burn starting at 7:36 p.m. Pacific Time (10:36 p.m. EDT) on June 30. The burn will slow Cassini...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