The Ancient Rings Of Saturn

Saturn is an enormous planet and, arguably, the most beautiful in our Sun’s bewitching family. Circled by myriads of tumbling, glittering, icy moonlets, and 62 known moons, Saturn is most famous for its magnificent system of gossamer rings. For many years, the age and origin of Saturn’s ring system has been the source of considerable debate among planetary scientists rings. In December 2013, a team of scientists, using data gathered by NASA’s Saturn-circling Cassini spacecraft, provided strong evidence supporting the theory that Saturn’s rings likely formed about 4.4 billion years ago–shortly after Saturn itself was born.

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Saturn and Jupiter are our Solar System’s gas-giant duo. Both inhabit the outer regions of our Solar System, and are largely composed of deep, dense gaseous envelopes. Some planetary scientists think that the two immense planets do not possess solid cores beneath their heavy gaseous layers. However, other planetary scientists theorize that Jupiter and Saturn really do harbor relatively small, solid cores hidden beneath their churning, stormy, and heavy blankets of seething gas. The other two giant denizens of our Solar System’s outer limits are Uranus and Neptune.

Saturn’s enchanting, mesmerizing system of rings represents a collection of myriads of icy bits that range in size from frigid smoke-sized particles to boulders as large as some small office buildings. These small, circling, twirling icy objects interact with one another, and tumble around in a lovely dance–and they are also influenced by their enormous parent planet’s magnetosphere. The magnetosphere is the region of a planet’s magnetic influence. These small icy objects are also under the influence of the larger moons of Saturn.

The primary rings form a very wide, but strangely thin and gossamer, ethereal expanse approximately 250,000 kilometers across–but less than tens of hundreds of meters deep! Historically, the origins and ages of the rings have been mysterious. Some planetary scientists have proposed that the rings are a “youthful” 100 million years of age, while others have considered the rings to be very ancient structures–as old as our Solar System!

Saturn’s system of rings sports 5 primary components: the G, F, A, B, and C rings, that are tallied from the outermost to the innermost. However, this system is somewhat too neat for the more complicated reality of the situation. The primary divisions must be further subdivided into literally thousands of separate gossamer ringlets. The A, B, and C rings are easy to observe, and are extremely wide. Alas, the F and G rings are very thin, gossamer and, therefore, extremely difficult to see. There is also a large gap existing between the A ring and the B ring, termed the Cassini Division.

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