What are Saturn’s Rings Made of? Exploring Our Solar System’s Most Infamous Sight.

What are Saturn's Rings Made of?

Even as young children, Saturn’s rings instantly represent our solar system, and planets as a whole. In fact, known as the “jewel of the solar system,” Saturn is our cosmic home’s crown. But, one common question nearly everyone has asked: “What are Saturn’s rings made of?”

What are Saturn’s rings made of?

Basically, rock and ice have created Saturn’s rings. However, these space materials come from several different places and circumstances.

In reality, astronomers are not certain how or when Saturn’s rings formed. But, almost certainly the planet’s many moons are to blame.

What are Saturn's Rings Made of? Saturn's Moons

Saturn’s moon, Dione transits the ringed planet.
Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Obviously, Earth has only one single Moon, which makes us quite unique. But, Saturn has a whopping 62 known moons! In fact, astronomers believe additional, not yet discovered moons may even lurk around the ringed giant!

Over billions of years, many asteroids, comets and meteoroids have crashed into Saturn’s frozen moons. As a result, the giant planet’s gravity likely trapped debris from the collisions. Plus, space’s frigid temperatures make most ring debris rock, covered in ice.

How big are Saturn’s ring debris?

Similar to most collisions, leftover debris chunks vary greatly in size. In fact, some are the size of a sand grain, while others are as large as a house!

Saturn’s majestic rings are massive, spanning 240,000 miles across! In other words, the distance from Earth to our Moon. However, viewed “edge-on,” (from the side) Saturn’s rings can be a razor-thin 30 feet tall in some places!

Now, a common example to understand the ring’s thinness, is a standard piece of paper. Basically, paper measures 8.5 inches wide, 11 high and 0.004 inches thick. Therefore, to make an accurate scale of Saturn’s rings using paper you’d need a sheet 10,000 inches across!

How many rings does Saturn have?

Named alphabetically by their discovery dates, Saturn’s rings span from A through E.

Cassini spies on Saturn’s rings.
Credit: NASA/JPL

Also, notable gaps exist among the rings. Actually, we see these gaps represented by black spaces in photos or models of Saturn’s rings.

In fact, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is currently orbiting the ringed planet. Looking closer at the rings than any other mission, Cassini has – and will continue to reveal many unanswered questions about the complex ring system.

Finally, after nearly 20 years at Saturn, Cassini’s grand finale will be 20 weeks of diving through the rings. At last, we will have groundbreaking close-up views of the splendid rings. Eventually, in late 2017, Cassini will intentionally crash into Saturn, disappearing forever!

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