Saturn’s rings, their composition and exploration.

From the eight planets that the solar system has, only the four gaseous planets, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, have rings. Between the gaseous planets, Saturn is the one that has the biggest and visible rings. Saturn’s rings are very pretty. However, Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune have also rings, what happens is that we can’t see them with such easiness in which we can see the rings of Saturn, as Saturn has his rings much bigger.

In 1659, the Dutch astronomer Christian Huygens deducted, after his observations about Saturn, that the specified planet was surrounded by a big and flat ring. A few years later, in 1675, the French astronomer Jean Dominique Cassini, helped by preciser instruments, deducted that, in fact, they were well distinguished different concentric rings. He saw that, actually, Saturn had 4 different rings. Nowadays, with much more precise instruments and thanks to the spacecrafts Pioneer 11, Voyager 1, Voyager 2 and Cassini-Huygens, which photographed Saturn’s rings, we know that Saturn has between 500 and 1000 rings.

More than one ring

The small color differences in Saturn’s rings have been enhanced in this image sent from Voyager 2.
Over 60 bright and dark ringlets show up in this color enhanced image from Voyager 2.

At a first glance, if you watch Saturn, you see a single and big ring. But, if you look at it better, we see that Saturn has 4 different rings. However, in the above images, where the image has been improved to distinguish better the colours, we see that each colour represents a different ring. Apart, the rings have also holes between them.

The answer of why Saturn has rings, or why he has so many, is still undiscovered. Then, Saturn’s rings have a lot more things to discover.

Their composition

Saturn’s rings have enormous dimensions. They extend on more than 400 000 kilometres, which comes to be the distance between the Earth and the Moon! Although they are very wide, Saturn’s rings have only between 10 and 100 metres thick. Despite their dimensions, the rings turn around Saturn at a big speed, approximately at 65 000 km/h.

The rings are composed principally of thousands of millions of small and big particles of water and ice. Their size can variate from a small particle that can’t be seen with our eyes, to the size of a bus. Depending on the part of the rings that you are watching, this part shines more or less. This is provoked because the particles in this part of the ring reflect better or worse the light of the Sun that arrives to them.

The Cassini spacecraft

One of the spacecrafts that arrived to Saturn and which is very well known in the Cassini spacecraft. It was thrown to the space in the direction of Saturn in 1997, and it arrived to Saturn 7 years after its launch, in 2004. He orbited Saturn during 13 years, studying in depth the planet, its rings and his moons much better and with more precision than the last spacecraft could do it.

Cassini also carried on it a probe called Huygens, which after some months orbiting Saturn, he threw it on the biggest satellite of Saturn, Titan, with the objective of studying the satellite. Huygens sent us many information and images from this satellite. Huygens revealed, thanks to its studies from Titan, that he has liquid methane lakes on its surface.

Cassini and Huygens made very interesting discoveries, and studied Saturn, its rings and moons in depth. In September 2017, Cassini finished his mission with a planned plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere, which he used to study from inside Saturn’s atmosphere. Due to the enormous pressure in which he was subdued because of the gases of Saturn’s atmosphere, after some minutes the spacecraft broke and stopped sending information.

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