Saturn is the second largest planet in the solar system and the sixth from the sun. Its radius is nine times that of the earth. Saturn consists of silicon, iron-nickel, and oxygen compounds. Saturn’s pale yellow color is due to ammonia crystals in the upper atmosphere. The prominent ring system is the planet’s famous feature.
Saturn has an extensive ring system called the rings of Saturn. The planet has four main rings and three fainter outer rings. The rings are composed of many small particles of sizes ranging from micrometers to one meter. The particles forming the rings include rock materials, dust, and water ice. The scientist Galileo Galile was the first person to observe Saturn’s rings using a telescope in 1960.
Classification of the Rings
The rings of Saturn fall under two groups, the main rings and the faint rings. There are gaps in between the groups known as divisions. The gaps are Cassini division and Roche division. The four main rings are Ring A, Ring B, Ring C, and ring D. The fainter rings are Ring G, Ring F, and Ring E.
The Main Rings
The main rings are dense and they spread from 7,000 km to 80,000 km distance from Saturn’s equator. These rings are made off impurities such as silicates, tholins, and 99.9% pure water ice. The particles that form the main rings range from 1cm to 10cm in size.
Ring A is the outermost major ring of planet Saturn. Ring A is estimated to have a thickness of 10 to 30 meters. Cassini division is the inner boundary of the A Ring. An orbital resonance maintains the outer edge of ring A.
Ring B is the brightest, largest, and the most massive of all major rings. It has a thickness of 5 to 15 meters. Ring B has vertical structures on the outer lining that deviates up to 2.5 kilometers from its main plane. Ring B’s total mass is estimated to be seven kilograms.
Ring C is wide and very faint. George Bond and William Lassell discovered it in 1850. Lassell described ring C as ‘’Crepe Ring’’ because it consisted of dark substances. Ring C has an estimated thickness of five meters and mass of 1.1x1018 kg.
Ring D is the innermost ring in Saturn’s ring system and it is very faint in appearance. The scientist Voyage 1 detected three ringlets designated as D73, D72, and D68 inside the D Ring in 1980. The ring has a fine scale structure with waves lying 30 km apart.
The Fainter Rings
The fainter rings are diffuse, dusty, and the outermost rings of Saturn. They are composed of small sized particles and water ice just like the main rings. Ring F is the most active in the solar system and it lies 3,000km from Ring A. The Pioneer 11 imaging team discovered it in 1979. Ring G is very thin and lies between Ring E and Ring F. Ring E is extremely wide and it is composed of ammonia, water ice with silicates, and carbon dioxide.
Other Planets with Rings
Apart from planet Saturn, other planets with rings include Jupiter, Neptune and Uranus. Uranus has thirteen rings, Neptune has five rings, and Jupiter four rings.