Throughout our history, every time we look at Saturn with a new piece of equipment or in a new light, we discover a more complex ring system. This is no exception. Back in 2009, the Spitzer Space Telescope turned its eye towards the dynamic planet and found the largest and most expansive ring system yet.
Pictured here is an artist’s conception of the very diffuse ring system (with a picture of Saturn taken by Spitzer near the center of the image). The artist created this image mimicking the appearance of an infrared picture.
The ring system itself is on the outskirts of Saturn’s gravitational dominance and is tilted 27 degrees in relation to the main ring system. It is comprised of a spars array of ice and dust particles and inhabits a region of space between 6 million kilometers and 12 million kilometers away from Saturn. The ring is also much thicker (or, a better word might be taller) for the ring stretches 20 Saturn’s high. As mentioned before, the ring is also very diffuse, to the extent where if you were to ‘stand’ in the middle of the ring system, you wouldn’t even know it.
The newest addition to the Saturnian system is most likely created by Phoebe – one of Saturn’s outermost moons. Throughout the moons history, it has been pelted with comets and meteors which, in turn, knock off material allowing the ring to form.
The ring also helps to explain a weird phenomena observed on one of Saturn’s other moons, Iapetus. This moon has a peculiar appearance, one side is bright and the other is dark. Phoebe and the ring system have a retrograde orbit. Iepetus’ gravity pulls material from the innermost portion of the ring system out of orbit allowing it to crash into the surface of the moon.
Sources and further reading:
NASA Space Telescope Discovers Largest Ring Around Saturn