Every planet has its own unique features and for Saturn, it is its stunning ring system. The planet’s ring system is in fact the most extensive in our solar system so you want to figure out how many rings Saturn has in total, continue reading!
Saturn, being the sixth planet from the Sun, is the second largest planet in our solar system. Other than being the planet with the most moons, Saturn is also known for its complex but spectacular ring system. It is not the only planet that has rings, as Jupiter, Uranius and Neptune also have such feature, however, what helps is really stand out is the fact its rings are the most visible and colourful.
Before jumping into the answer, I will give you some information on Saturn, just so you understand a bit more about this pretty little planet.
- Like all of the other planets in our solar system, Saturn was named after a figure in Roman mythology, who is in this case, the Roman god of agriculture, Saturnus.
- Saturn is the second largest planet in our solar system. It has a volume of 8.2713 x 10^14 cubic kilometers, which is heavier than 760 Earths.
- Saturn is composed of 94% hydrogen, 6% helium and a tiny amount of other gases such as methane, ammonia, etc. The planet’s composition of mostly gases makes it the least dense planet in our solar system. In fact, Saturn has a density of only 0.687 grams per cubic centimeter, meaning that when being placed in water, it would actually float.
- With a radius of 58.232 kilometers which is about nine times bigger than that of Earth, Saturn is the second largest planet in our solar system.
- Having its 82nd moon being discovered recently, Saturn has surpassed Jupiter to become the planet with the most moons in our solar system. In fact, it has a total of 150 natural satellites and moons, out of which 82 are confirmed moons by NASA and other space research groups.
- Saturn’s self rotation is fairly quick while its orbit around the Sun is very slow. A day on Saturn is only 10.6 hours long whereas a year up there is 10,756 Earth days long.
- Saturn appears yellowish brown as its atmosphere contains traces of ammonia and phosphine gas, water vapour and hydrocarbons.
About Saturn’s rings
Saturn’s ring system made its first appearance in 1610 through Galileo Galilei’s telescope. Unfortunately, the telescope of that time was still very primitive and Galileo was unable to recognize a full ring. In fact, he only saw the two opposite edges of the ring, which he thought were two separate moons.
It wasn’t until 45 years later that the truth was uncovered. In 1655, Christian Huygens, with the help of a more advanced telescope, carried out some more closeup observations and was able to deduce that the planet has a ring system.
So you already know that Saturn’s rings are the largest in our solar system, but you will not be able to imagine how big they actually are. They are 282,000 kilometers across and have a diameter of approximately 121 kilometers, nearly 9.5 times bigger than that of Earth.
What are Saturn’s rings made of?
The composition of Saturn’s rings is indeed very interesting. They consist of billions of particles made out of ice, dust and rocks fell of from passing comets, asteroids and even nearby moons. These particles range in size from as tiny as a grain of sand to as enormous as a building.
Why does Saturn have rings?
The reason why Saturn possesses a ring system is actually not known. However, many people believe that the particles that make up the rings are the remnants of a moon that the planet has a long long time ago. It is believed that initially, this moon travelled around Saturn, yet, gradually, it moved faster and at the same time, closer to the planet. At this point, the moon was constantly placed under two opposite forces, which eventually caused it to burst and break into pieces of different sizes and shapes. These pieces, due to Saturn’s gravitational force, are spread out evenly around the planet to form a flattened ring, which is what you see today.
How many rings does Saturn have?
The number really depends on how closely you are observing. A simple telescope would allow you to see 3 rings while a powerful one would be able to spot 8. And with spacecraft like NASA’s Cassini which is orbiting the planet, the number would be increased to 30. Yet, none of these numbers are correct. In fact, the total number of rings Saturn has is yet to be discovered.
However, based on what could already be observed, space experts divide Saturn’s complex ring system into 7 main groups, which are separated by gaps called divisions. With increasing distance from the planet, the groups are named D, C, B, A, F, G and E, of which C, B and A are the main groups and D, F, G and E are the fainter and thinner ones.
Out of the three main groups, A is the farthest from Saturn while B is the brightest and thickest one. The A and the B ring groups are separated by the Cassini Division, which has a width of 4,800 kilometers, being the largest gap in the system. Locating on the other side of B is the C group, which is also a major group. These are classified as the main groups since they are made of largest particles chunk, thus appear thicker, brighter and more visible.
D, F, G and E consist of smaller particles and are referred to as dusty ring groups. The D group is found expanding into Saturn’s top cloud layers, while F, G and E are located beyond the three main groups.
At this point you may wonder why scientists are unable to give an exact number of rings Saturn has as it seems like the 7 ring groups of the planet were discovered with ease. But take a look at this photo.
What you are looking is actually a closeup image of a part of Saturn’s ring system. Each of its ring groups is actually made up of thousands of thinner rings! Therefore, it is definitely impossible to know the number exactly because how are we going to count them all? However, scientists are always working day and night to make the impossible possible so have hope that in the future the secret of this spectacular planet will be revealed.
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