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Saturn has several distinctions among the planets in our solar system. It’s the 6th from the sun and the 2nd-largest. However, one of Saturn’s most distinctive features is its spectacular rings. The planet is made from billions of bits of ice and rock, and any child who pays attention in class can identify Saturn immediately from its stunning rings. How many rings does Saturn have? The short answer is that Saturn has seven rings. We’ll tell you more below and share many interesting tidbits about the Ringed Planet.
Saturn has seven rings separated by several gaps and divisions, and you can see them clearly from even a long distance away. The names for all seven rings are about as easy to remember as you can imagine. They are the first seven letters of the English alphabet, A, B, C, D. E, F, and G. Even more interesting than their names is that the rings weren’t all discovered together. A, B, and C were discovered first as they’re the brightest. D, ironically, is extremely dim. E is the biggest and furthest from the planet, and F is composed of several narrow rings. Lastly, like E, G is enormous and far from the planet but smaller and closer than its spacial sibling.
If you ask most people whether Saturn is the only planet with rings, most will say it is. That’s because Saturn was portrayed as the only planet with rings for decades in our schools. Its rings were the feature that made Saturn stand out among the rest. The truth is, the other three gas giant planets in our solar system, Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune, all have rings too. They’re simply so faint compared to Saturn that they were barely (if ever) mentioned.
If you were to look up at the night sky from Saturn, you would see a whopping 82 moons! Of course, some of the moons are about the size of a sports arena. Others, however, are massive, including Titan, which is bigger than Mercury! What’s fascinating is that Saturn’s moons shape its rings, and some even collect material from the rings. All 82 moons are located outside of Saturn’s rings, but inside the rings, you’ll also find moonlets among the ice and rock. Scientists have identified all 82 moons, but only 53 have been confirmed.
As we mentioned earlier, the seven rings of Saturn are all named after a letter in the alphabet, starting with the letter A and stopping with the 7th letter, G. Technically, their names are:
The famous astronomer Galileo Galilee was the first to discover that Saturn had rings. That was back in 1610, over 400 years ago, with a very humble telescope of his own invention. At first, Galileo believed that what he saw were two separate objects on each side of Saturn. Another 40 years later, Christiaan Huygens, an astronomer from the Netherlands, realized the two parts were not separate but a whole ring. The A and B rings were the first 2 rings named. That was when Jean-Dominique Cassini, an Italian astronomer, discovered a division in space between the two rings.
We mentioned earlier that Saturn has 82 moons, but most of them are quite small. Some of those moons, however, have a greater influence on Saturn’s rings than others, moving it and changing it as they interact. These moons are known as “shepherd moons” since they are similar to shepherds on earth tending to their flocks of sheep.
Although they certainly look fascinating, Saturn’s rings are made from lowly rocks and loads of ice. The range in sizes of these bits of detritus is impressive. Some are as small as the typical grain of sand on a beach, while others can be as big as a ranch home. Scientists aren’t sure what formed all the ice and rock, but they believe the material could have been created by asteroids crashing into the moons over the millennia. On the other hand, they suggest the rocks and ice could have been left over from when Saturn was first formed.
Although it’s long gone, the Cassini spacecraft launched by NASA spent a decade studying Saturn and its rings. It burned up in the planet’s atmosphere on September 15, 2017. Some of the findings Cassini sent back before its mission ended were shocking to scientists, including that Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, forms Saturn’s E ring. Enceladus shoots water jets out into space, creating an enormous but incredibly thin ring.
It’s hard to determine from photos of Saturn how thin their rings are. Saturn’s rings can get as wide as about 300 feet: the length of three football fields. In spacial terms, that’s not thick, that’s thin. Where they lack in thickness, however, Saturn’s rings make up for in width. They are thousands of miles wide, creating an effect that makes Saturn look much bigger than it is. It’s still pretty big, even without the rings, since 700 Earths could fit inside the Ringed Planet.
Saturn’s rings are the most noticeable, impressive, and large compared to other ringed planets. There are seven rings to choose from, and they all have their own peculiarities. Saturn’s rings are fascinating and make the planet stand out from the rest. As NASA once said about Saturn’s marvelous rings, they are “the most recognized characteristic of any world in our solar system.”
Featured Image Credit: bluecrayola, Shutterstock
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Greg Iacono is a self-taught writer and former chiropractor who, ironically, retired early due to back problems. He now spends his time writing scintillating content on a wide variety of subjects. Greg is also a well-known video script writer known for his ability to take a complex subject and make it accessible for the layperson.
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