Of all the planets that are part of the solar system, perhaps Saturn is the most striking of all due to its rings. Although Jupiter is the largest and has a very interesting aspect, the rings of Saturn make it the most curious planet of all, since the presence of these rings gives it a certain aspect of greater exoticism and peculiarity when compared to the rest. Of planets that we see in the solar system.
However, can you tell what the rings of Saturn are made of? If you want to know the answer, keep reading this article and we’ll tell you about it.
How Saturn’s rings were formed
Saturn is the sixth planet in the solar system starting to count from our star outwards. It is a gas giant planet, just like Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune. However, beyond what constitutes the aspect of the planet itself, in its equatorial plane and separated by thousands of kilometers from the planet, we find a series of concentric rings that remain undisturbed around the planet. These rings stay in this position because they are orbiting Saturn, in the same way that any natural satellite would do around a planet.
However, unlike what can happen with the Moon and Earth, Saturn does not have a single rocky body shaped satellite. In reality, Saturn’s rings are a bunch of rocks and dust particles that didn’t come together to form a satellite, which explains why Saturn has rings. In this way, they found equilibrium in the orbit of the planet and accompany it in its translation around the Sun, which lasts approximately 30 Earth years.
Composition of Saturn’s rings
In fact, although we are talking about rings, the truth is that we give it this name because of the appearance they have when observed from our telescopes. If we got close enough, the look would be completely different. Viewed up close, Saturn’s rings would show up as an immense field of meteorites and dust orbiting the planet’s equator.
But, in any case, they are not unique or monolithic structures, but rather billions of rocks that, being close to each other, and from our perspective, give the sensation of being rings that surround the planet.
Why don’t the rings of Saturn fall
Once it has become clear that Saturn’s rings are not rings, but actually independent rocks that orbit the planet, the question arises as to why they do not crash onto the planet’s surface as any other meteorite or stardust would. This is because they are in perfect balance between the force of gravity and the centrifugal force.
The force of gravity makes the particles tend to fall towards the surface of the planet. But at the same time, the centrifugal force pulls rocks and other particles into outer space. In this way, those particles and rocks that are at an equilibrium point between the two forces, do not move closer to or further from the planet. They just remain balanced around its orbit.
This does not mean that in the past there have not been other rocks that have been able to move. In fact, it is logical to think that, during the formation of the planet Saturn, until its rings stabilize, a large amount of matter that was around it would rush towards the planet by the effect of gravity, as well as another much would be lost in the outer space by being outside the gravitational field of the planet. The rings that we see today are the result of millions of years of planetary evolution.
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Who and when discovered the rings of Saturn
Although it may seem surprising, the rings of Saturn were not discovered until the year 1610 by the hand of Galileo. This is not by chance, since, with the naked eye, it is impossible to distinguish the rings of the planet itself. However, with the invention of the telescope, it was possible to carry out a much more detailed observation of the appearance of this planet, which led to Galileo himself who first described these formations, although at first they were not identified as rings.
In fact, Galileo described the rings as fuzzy, “ear-like” structures that sit close to the planet. Later, in the year 1655, Christiaan Huygens, a Dutch astronomer, first described the rings of Saturn, referring to them by this name. Which made us think that, indeed, they were monolithic ring-shaped structures that were located around the planet.
Finally, and after the observations of great scientists, it was in 1857 when the Scottish scientist James Clerk Maxwell affirmed that the rings of Saturn were not rings properly speaking, but rather large masses of rocks orbiting in a balanced way around the planet, and that, due to from our perspective, they were seen as rings circling Saturn’s equator.
Now that you know what the rings of Saturn are made of, you may also find this article about what is the largest planet?