Saturn is one of the most beautiful planets in our solar system mainly because of its rings. Discovered in 1610 AD by Galileo Galilei, Saturn is the 6th and the 2nd largest planet after Jupiter in the solar system being made of primarily hydrogen and helium making it a big gas ball. It has the most extensive ring system of any planet in the solar system.
It’s actually not a single ring, but it consists of as many as 500 to 1000 rings. The rings are thought to be made of pieces of comets, asteroids and broken moons that were pulled by saturn’s powerful gravity. The size of the ring particles can range from mere tiny dust like icy particles to the size of a building or house or even mountains. The rings appear white when looked from the cloud tops of the planet or appear to be glowing but in fact they aren’t actually glowing as the reflected sunlight from its surface makes it appear that way.
ORBITS OF THE RINGS:
Each ring orbits at a different speed, and are relatively close to each other. But there exists some gap of 2920 miles or 4700km wide known as Cassini Division separating rings A & B (The rings are named in the alphabetical order A, B, C, D, E, F, G). A, B, C are the main rings and D, E, F, G are fainter and nearly discovered.
The rings are arranged in the following way –
Saturn D C B Cassini Division A F G E
There were four robo-spacecrafts that have already voyaged Saturn namely; Pioneer II, Voyager I, Voyager II, Cassini.
WHY ARE THE SATURN RINGS DISAPPEARING?
First observation of disappearance of the saturn’s rings was made by Galileo. It’s again happening now though it’s not a matter of concern as it’s a natural phenomenon occurring every 14-15 earth years known as “Ring Crossing”.
Sometimes, the Saturn’s orbit takes it to such a location that the Saturn seems to tip just enough resulting in the disappearance of its rings. This process resumes until the total invisibility of the rings to anyone gazing from the earth. It’s a temporary process occurring every 14-15 years, and they’ll reappear gradually. But during that disappearance time, the astronomers can make great observations of the Saturn’s satellites as there won’t be any reflection of its icy, dusty rings from the sun making the observation process pretty easier. There have been 27 ring crossings since Galileo’s observation, and if we multiply 27 by 15, it’s 405; nearly 400 years since the discovery of Saturn or Galileo’s observation. This somehow gives us a picture of this phenomenon occurring every 14-15 years.
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Author: Som Abhisek.