The Ringed World
Particles of ice form a complex set of rings that circle gas giant Saturn. The planet belches clouds of ammonia ice crystals from deep within its atmosphere.
|Distance From Sun||926.15 million mi (9.5x Earth’s distance from Sun)|
|Structure||rock and metal core, metallic hydrogen, liquid hydrogen, gaseous hydrogen|
|Temperature (Planetary Extremes)||Day -312°F (-191°C); Night -312°F (-191°C)|
|Mass||1 Saturn = 95 Earths|
|Volume||752 Earths could fit inside Saturn|
|Day||10 hours, 14 minutes|
|Year||29 years, 7 months|
The Jewel of the Solar System
Few places in the solar system look more beautiful and mysterious than Saturn. Its glittering rings dazzle the eye.
Pieces of Rings
Saturn’s rings stretch out nearly 300,000 miles from the planet’s cloud tops. The ring particles—which range in size from tiny dust grains to icy boulders—are shepherded into ringlets by Saturn’s inner moons.
Saturn’s ring system is so thin that it almost disappears when we view it edge-on from Earth. The Hubble Space Telescope took these two views at different times during Saturn’s 29.5-year orbit.
Iapetus: One Moon With Two Faces
One side of Saturn’s icy moon Iapetus is bright and cratered. The other has something dark and red smeared across its frigid landscape. This mysterious coating might be the result of methane erupting from beneath the surface. It is also possible that Iapetus sweeps up material ejected by another moon.
The Short Lives of Planetary Rings
Saturn is not the only planet with rings. Jupiter is encircled by a stream of dust from its inner moons. Radiation and bombardments would destroy this ring in a thousand years if not for the constant supply of new dust from the moons.The shattered pieces of nearby moons also created Saturn’s glittering rings, plus the systems circling Uranus and Neptune. A ring of debris may have surroundedEarth for less than a hundred years after our Moon formed.