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Rings of Saturn

For other uses, see Rings of Saturn (disambiguation).

The rings of Saturn are the most extensive planetary

The full set of rings, imaged as Saturn eclipsed the Sun from the
vantage of the Cassini orbiter, 1,200,000 km (746,000 mi) dis-
tant, on 19 July 2013 (brightness is exaggerated). Earth appears
as a dot at 4 o'clock, between the G and E rings.

Voyager 2 view of Saturn casting a shadow across its rings. Four

satellites and ring spokes are visible.

Although reection from the rings increases Saturns

brightness, they are not visible from Earth with unaided
Simulated image using color to present radio-occultation-derived
particle size data. The attenuation of 0.94-, 3.6-, and 13-vision. In 1610, the year after Galileo Galilei turned a
telescope to the sky, he became the rst person to observe
centimeter signals sent by Cassini through the rings to Earth
shows abundance of particles of sizes similar to or larger than
Saturns rings, though he could not see them well enough
those wavelengths. Purple (B, inner A Ring) means few particles
to discern their true nature. In 1655, Christiaan Huy-
are < 5 cm (all signals similarly attenuated). Green and blue (C,
gens was the rst person to describe them as a disk sur-
outer A Ring) mean particles < 5 cm and < 1 cm, respectively,
rounding Saturn.[3] Although many people think of Sat-
are common. White areas (B Ring) are too dense to transmit ad-
urns rings as being made up of a series of tiny ringlets (a
equate signal. Other evidence shows rings A to C have a broad
range of particle sizes, up to meters across. concept that goes back to Laplace),[3] true gaps are few.
It is more correct to think of the rings as an annular disk
ring system of any planet in the Solar System. They con- with concentric
local maxima and minima in density and
sist of countless small particles, ranging from m to m brightness. On the scale of the clumps within the rings
in size, that orbit about Saturn. The ring particles are there is much empty space.
made almost entirely of water ice, with a trace compo- The rings have numerous gaps where particle density
nent of rocky material. There is still no consensus as to drops sharply: two opened by known moons embed-
their mechanism of formation; some features of the rings ded within them, and many others at locations of known
suggest a relatively recent origin, but theoretical models destabilizing orbital resonances with Saturns moons.
indicate they are likely to have formed early in the Solar Other gaps remain unexplained. Stabilizing resonances,
Systems history.[2] on the other hand, are responsible for the longevity of


several rings, such as the Titan Ringlet and the G Ring.

Well beyond the main rings is the Phoebe ring, which is
tilted at an angle of 27 degrees to the other rings and, like
Phoebe, orbits in retrograde fashion.

1 History

1.1 Galileos work Robert Hooke noted the shadows (a and b) cast by both the globe
and the rings on each other in this 1666 drawing of Saturn.

1.2 Ring theory, observations and explo-


In 1655, Christiaan Huygens became the rst person to

suggest that Saturn was surrounded by a ring. Using a 50
power refracting telescope that he designed himself, far
superior to those available to Galileo, Huygens observed
Saturn and wrote that It [Saturn] is surrounded by a thin,
at, ring, nowhere touching, inclined to the ecliptic.[3]
Robert Hooke was another early observer of the rings of
Saturn, and noted the casting of shadows on the rings.[6]
In 1675, Giovanni Domenico Cassini determined that
Saturns ring was composed of multiple smaller rings with
gaps between them; the largest of these gaps was later
Galileo rst observed the rings in 1610.
named the Cassini Division. This division is a 4,800 km-
wide region between the A Ring and B Ring.[7]

Galileo Galilei was the rst to observe the rings of Sat- In 1787, Pierre-Simon Laplace suggested that the rings
urn in 1610 using his telescope, but was unable to iden- were composed of a large number of solid ringlets.[3]
tify them as such. He wrote to the Duke of Tuscany In 1859, James Clerk Maxwell demonstrated that the
that The planet Saturn is not alone, but is composed of rings could not be solid or they would become unsta-
three, which almost touch one another and never move ble and break apart. He proposed that the rings must
nor change with respect to one another. They are ar- be composed of numerous small particles, all indepen-
ranged in a line parallel to the zodiac, and the middle one dently orbiting Saturn.[8] Later, Soa Kovalevskaya found
(Saturn itself) is about three times the size of the lateral that Saturns rings cannot be liquid ring-shaped bodies.[9]
ones.[4] He also described the rings as Saturns ears. In Maxwells proposal was proven to be correct in 1895
1612 the Earth passed through the plane of the rings and through spectroscopic studies of the rings carried out by
they became invisible. Mystied, Galileo remarked I do James Keeler of Allegheny Observatory and Aristarkh
not know what to say in a case so surprising, so unlooked Belopolsky of Pulkovo Observatory.
for and so novel.[3] He mused, Has Saturn swallowed Four robotic spacecraft have observed Saturns rings from
his children?" referring to the myth of the Titan Saturn the vicinity of the planet. Pioneer 11's closest approach
devouring his ospring to forestall the prophecy of them to Saturn occurred in September 1979 at a distance of
overthrowing him.[4] He was further confused when the 20,900 km.[10] Pioneer 11 was responsible for the dis-
rings again became visible in 1613.[3] covery of the F ring.[10] Voyager 1's closest approach oc-
Early astronomers used anagrams as a form of curred in November 1980 at a distance of 64,200 km.[11]
commitment scheme to lay claim to new discover- A failed photopolarimeter prevented Voyager 1 from ob-
ies before their results were ready for publication. serving Saturns rings at the planned resolution; neverthe-
Galileo used smaismrmilmepoetaleumibunenugttauiras less, images from the spacecraft provided unprecedented
for Altissimum planetam tergeminum observavi (I have detail of the ring system and revealed the existence of
observed the most distant planet to have a triple form) the G ring.[12] Voyager 2's closest approach occurred in
for discovering the rings of Saturn.[5] August 1981 at a distance of 41,000 km.[11] Voyager 2s

working photopolarimeter allowed it to observe the ring ferent ways, from the gravitational pull of Saturns many
system at higher resolution than Voyager 1, and to thereby moons. Some gaps are cleared out by the passage of tiny
discover many previously unseen ringlets.[13] Cassini en- moonlets such as Pan,[23] many more of which may yet be
tered into orbit around Saturn in July 2004.[14] Cassinis discovered, and some ringlets seem to be maintained by
images of the rings are the most detailed to-date, and are the gravitational eects of small shepherd satellites (sim-
responsible for the discovery of yet more ringlets.[15] ilar to Prometheus and Pandora's maintenance of the F
The rings are named alphabetically in the order they ring). Other gaps arise from resonances between the or-
were discovered.[16] The main rings are, working out- bital period of particles in the gap and that of a more mas-
sive moon further out; Mimas maintains the Cassini Di-
ward from the planet, C, B and A, with the Cassini Di-
vision, the largest gap, separating Rings B and A. Sev- vision in this manner.[24] Still more structure in the rings
consists of spiral waves raised by the inner moons pe-
eral fainter rings were discovered more recently. The D
Ring is exceedingly faint and closest to the planet. The riodic gravitational perturbations at less disruptive reso-
narrow F Ring is just outside the A Ring. Beyond that
are two far fainter rings named G and E. The rings show
a tremendous amount of structure on all scales, some
related to perturbations by Saturns moons, but much

2 Physical characteristics

Cassini mosaic of Saturns rings on August 12, 2009, a day after

equinox. With the rings pointed at the Sun, illumination is by light
reected o Saturn, except on thicker or out-of-plane sections,
like the F Ring.

Data from the Cassini space probe indicate that the rings
of Saturn possess their own atmosphere, independent of
that of the planet itself. The atmosphere is composed
of molecular oxygen gas (O2 ) produced when ultravi-
olet light from the Sun interacts with water ice in the
The dark Cassini Division separates the wide inner B Ring and
rings. Chemical reactions between water molecule frag-
outer A Ring in this image from the HST's ACS (March 22, 2004).
ments and further ultraviolet stimulation create and eject,
The less prominent C Ring is just inside the B Ring.
among other things, O2 . According to models of this
atmosphere, H2 is also present. The O2 and H2 atmo-
The dense main rings extend from 7,000 km to 80,000
km above Saturns equator (see Major subdivisions of the spheres are so sparse that if the entire atmosphere were
somehow condensed onto the rings, it would be about one
rings; Saturns equatorial radius is 60,300 km). With an
estimated local thickness of as little as 10 metres[17] and atom thick.[25] The rings also have a similarly sparse OH
(hydroxide) atmosphere. Like the O2 , this atmosphere
as much as 1 kilometer,[18] they are composed of 99.9
percent pure water ice with a smattering of impurities is produced by the disintegration of water molecules,
though in this case the disintegration is done by ener-
that may include tholins or silicates.[19] The main rings
are primarily composed of particles ranging in size from getic ions that bombard water molecules ejected by Sat-
1 centimetre to 10 meters.[20] urns moon Enceladus. This atmosphere, despite being
extremely sparse, was detected from Earth by the Hubble
Based on Voyager observations, the total mass of the rings Space Telescope.[26]
was estimated to be about 3 x 1019 kg. This is a small
fraction of the total mass of Saturn (about 50 ppb) and is Saturn shows complex patterns in its brightness.[27] Most
just a little less than the moon Mimas.[21] More recent ob- of the variability is due to the changing aspect of the
servations and computer modeling based on Cassini ob- rings,[28][29] and this goes through two cycles every orbit.
servations show that this may be an underestimate due to However, superimposed on this is variability due to the
clumping in the rings and the mass may be three times eccentricity of the planets orbit that causes the planet to
this gure.[22] Although the largest gaps in the rings, such display brighter oppositions in the northern hemisphere
as the Cassini Division and Encke Gap, can be seen from than it does in the southern.[30]
Earth, both Voyager spacecraft discovered that the rings In 1980, Voyager 1 made a y-by of Saturn that showed
have an intricate structure of thousands of thin gaps and the F-ring to be composed of three narrow rings that ap-
ringlets. This structure is thought to arise, in several dif- peared to be braided in a complex structure; it is now

Cassini space probe view of the unilluminated side of Saturns

rings (May 9, 2007).

known that the outer two rings consist of knobs, kinks A 2007 artist impression of the aggregates of icy particles that
and lumps that give the illusion of braiding, with the less form the 'solid' portions of Saturns rings. These elongated
bright third ring lying inside them. clumps are continually forming and dispersing. The largest par-
ticles are a few metres across.
New images of the rings taken around the 11 August 2009
equinox of Saturn by NASAs Cassini spacecraft have
shown that the rings extend signicantly out of the nomi-
nal ring plane in a few places. This displacement reaches
as much as 4 km (2.5 mi) at the border of the Keeler Gap,
due to the out-of-plane orbit of Daphnis, the moon that
creates the gap.[31]

3 Formation of main rings

Saturns rings may be very old, dating to the formation of
Saturn itself. There are two main theories regarding the
origin of Saturns inner rings. One theory, originally pro- Tethys and Janus
posed by douard Roche in the 19th century, is that the
rings were once a moon of Saturn (named Veritas, a Ro-
man goddess who hid in a well) whose orbit decayed un- A more traditional version of the disrupted-moon theory
til it came close enough to be ripped apart by tidal forces is that the rings are composed of debris from a moon 400
(see Roche limit).[32] A variation on this theory is that this to 600 km in diameter, slightly bigger than Mimas. The
moon disintegrated after being struck by a large comet or last time there were collisions large enough to be likely
asteroid.[33] The second theory is that the rings were never to disrupt a moon that large was during the Late Heavy
part of a moon, but are instead left over from the original Bombardment some four billion years ago.[34]
nebular material from which Saturn formed. A more recent variant of this type of theory by R. M.
Saturns rings Canup is that the rings could represent part of the remains
and moons of the icy mantle of a much larger, Titan-sized, dieren-
tiated moon that was stripped of its outer layer as it spi-
raled into the planet during the formative period when
Saturn was still surrounded by a gaseous nebula.[35][36]
This would explain the scarcity of rocky material within
the rings. The rings would initially have been much more
massive (~1000 times) and broader than at present; mate-
rial in the outer portions of the rings would have coalesced
into the moons of Saturn out to Tethys, also explaining
the lack of rocky material in the composition of most of
these moons.[36] Subsequent collisional or cryovolcanic
evolution of Enceladus might then have caused selective
loss of ice from this moon, raising its density to its cur-
Tethys, Hyperion rent value of 1.61 g/cm3 , compared to values of 1.15 for
and Prometheus Mimas and 0.97 for Tethys.[36]
4.1 Tabulated data 5

The idea of massive early rings was subsequently ex- like the main rings, almost entirely of water ice. The nar-
tended to explain the formation of Saturns moons out row F Ring, just o the outer edge of the A Ring, is more
to Rhea.[37] If the initial massive rings contained chunks dicult to categorize; parts of it are very dense, but it also
of rocky material (>100 km across) as well as ice, these contains a great deal of dust-size particles.
silicate bodies would have accreted more ice and been
expelled from the rings, due to gravitational interactions
with the rings and tidal interaction with Saturn, into pro-
gressively wider orbits. Within the Roche limit, bodies of
rocky material are dense enough to accrete additional ma-
terial, whereas less-dense bodies of ice are not. Once out-
side the rings, the newly formed moons could have contin-
ued to evolve through random mergers. This process may
explain the variation in silicate content of Saturn' moons
out to Rhea, as well as the trend towards less silicate con-
tent closer to Saturn. Rhea would then be the oldest of
the moons formed from the primordial rings, with moons
closer to Saturn being progressively younger.[37]
The brightness and purity of the water ice in Saturns
rings has been cited as evidence that the rings are much
younger than Saturn, perhaps just 100 million years old,
as the infall of meteoric dust would have led to darken-
ing of the rings. However, new research indicates that color mosaic of Cassini narrow-angle camera images of
the B Ring may be massive enough to have diluted in- the unilluminated side of Saturns D, C, B, A and F rings
falling material and thus avoided substantial darkening (left to right) taken on May 9, 2007.
over the age of the Solar System. Ring material may be
recycled as clumps form within the rings and are then
disrupted by impacts. This would explain the apparent
youth of some of the material within the rings.[38] Further
evidence supporting a young ring theory has been gath- F
ered by researchers analyzing data from the Cassini Titan A
Radar Mapper, which focused on analyzing the propor-
tion of rocky silicates contained within the C ring.[39]
The Cassini UVIS team, led by Larry Esposito, used
stellar occultation to discover 13 objects, ranging from
27 metres to 10 km across, within the F ring. They are
translucent, suggesting they are temporary aggregates of
ice boulders a few metres across. Esposito believes this
to be the basic structure of the Saturnian rings, particles
clumping together, then being blasted apart.[40]

4 Subdivisions and structures

within the rings The illuminated side of Saturns rings with the major subdivisions
The densest parts of the Saturnian ring system are the
A and B Rings, which are separated by the Cassini Divi-
sion (discovered in 1675 by Giovanni Domenico Cassini).
Along with the C Ring, which was discovered in 1850 and 4.1 Tabulated data
is similar in character to the Cassini Division, these re-
gions constitute the main rings. The main rings are denser Notes:
and contain larger particles than the tenuous dusty rings. distance is to centre of gaps, rings and ringlets that are
The latter include the D Ring, extending inward to Sat- narrower than 1,000 km
urns cloud tops, the G and E Rings and others beyond the unocial name
main ring system. These diuse rings are characterised Names as designated by the International Astronomi-
as dusty because of the small size of their particles (of- cal Union, unless otherwise noted. Broader separations
ten about a micrometre); their chemical composition is, between named rings are termed divisions, while nar-
6 6 C RING

rower separations within named rings are called gaps.

Data mostly from the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomen-
clature, a NASA factsheet and several papers.[41][42][43]

4.1.1 Major subdivisions of the rings

4.1.2 Structures within the C Ring

4.1.3 Structures within the Cassini Division


4.1.4 Structures within the A Ring

A Cassini image of the faint D Ring, with the inner C Ring below

and D73,[45] the structure was found during Saturns 2009

equinox to extend a radial distance of 19000 km from the
D ring to the inner edge of the B ring.[46][47] The waves
are interpreted as a spiral pattern of vertical corrugations
of 2 to 20 m amplitude;[48] the fact that the period of the
waves is decreasing over time (from 60 km in 1995 to
30 km by 2006) allows a deduction that the pattern may
have originated in late 1983 with the impact of a cloud of
debris (with a mass of ~1012 kg) from a disrupted comet
that tilted the rings out of the equatorial plane.[45][46][49]
A similar spiral pattern in Jupiters main ring has been
attributed to a perturbation caused by impact of material
from Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 in 1994.[46][50][51]

(4 degree angle) Cassini images of Saturns C, B, and

A rings (left to right; the F ring is faintly visible in the
6 C Ring
full size upper image if viewed at sucient brightness).
Upper image: natural color mosaic of Cassini narrow- The C Ring is a wide but faint ring located inward of
angle camera photos of the illuminated side of the rings the B Ring. It was discovered in 1850 by William and
taken on December 12, 2004. Lower image: simulated George Bond, though William R. Dawes and Johann
view constructed from a radio occultation observation Galle also saw it independently. William Lassell termed
conducted on May 3, 2005. Color in the lower image is it the Crepe Ring because it seemed to be composed of
used to represent information about ring particle sizes darker material than the brighter A and B Rings.[52]
(see the caption of the articles second image for an Its vertical thickness is estimated at 5 metres, its mass at
explanation). around 1.1 1018 kilograms, and its optical depth varies
from 0.05 to 0.12. That is, between 5 and 12 percent of
light shining perpendicularly through the ring is blocked,
so that when seen from above, the ring is close to trans-
5 D Ring parent. The 30-kilometer wavelength spiral corrugations
rst seen in the D Ring were observed during Saturns
equinox of 2009 to extend throughout the C Ring (see
The D ring is the innermost ring, and is very faint. In
1980, Voyager 1 detected within this ring three ringlets
designated D73, D72 and D68, with D68 being the dis-
crete ringlet nearest to Saturn. Some 25 years later,
6.1 Colombo Gap and Titan Ringlet
Cassini images showed that D72 had become signi-
cantly broader and more diuse, and had moved plan- The Colombo Gap lies in the inner C Ring. Within the
etward by 200 kilometres.[45] gap lies the bright but narrow Colombo Ringlet, cen-
Present in the D ring is a nescale structure with waves 30 tered at 77,883 kilometres from Saturns center, which
kilometres apart. First seen in the gap between the C ring is slightly elliptical rather than circular. This ringlet is
7.1 Spokes 7

A location at the outer edge of the B Ring, viewed shortly before

equinox, where shadows are cast by vertical structures up to 2.5
km high, probably created by unseen embedded moonlets. The
Cassini Division is at top.

View of the outer C Ring; the Maxwell Gap with the Maxwell
Ringlet on its right side are above and right of center. The Bond
tations indicated that the B Rings surface density is in the
Gap is above a broad light band towards the upper right; the range of 40 to 140 g/cm2 , lower than previously believed,
Dawes Gap is within a dark band just below the upper right cor-and that the rings optical depth has little correlation with
ner. its mass density (a nding previously reported for the A
and C rings).[55][56] The total mass of the B Ring was esti-
also called the Titan Ringlet as it is governed by an or- mated to be somewhere in the range of 7 to 2410 kg.
18 [55]
bital resonance with the moon Titan.[53] At this location This compares to a mass for Mimas of 37.510 kg.
within the rings, the length of a ring particles apsidal pre-
cession is equal to the length of Titans orbital motion, so
that the outer end of this eccentric ringlet always points 7.1 Spokes
towards Titan.[53]

6.2 Maxwell Gap and Ringlet

The Maxwell Gap lies within the outer part of the C Ring.
It also contains a dense non-circular ringlet, the Maxwell
Ringlet. In many respects this ringlet is similar to the
ring of Uranus. There are wave-like structures in the mid-
dle of both rings. While the wave in the ring is thought
to be caused by Uranian moon Cordelia, no moon has
been discovered in the Maxwell gap as of July 2008.[54]

7 B Ring
The B Ring is the largest, brightest, and most massive of
the rings. Its thickness is estimated as 5 to 15 metres
and its optical depth varies from 0.4 to greater than 5,[55]
meaning that >99% of the light passing through some
Dark spokes mark the B rings sunlit side in low phase angle
parts of the B Ring is blocked. The B Ring contains a
Cassini images. This is a low bitrate video. Full size video with
great deal of variation in its density and brightness, nearly
high bitrate of 471 kbit/s;
all of it unexplained. These are concentric, appearing as GIF version (400 400 pixels, le size: 2.21 MB)
narrow ringlets, though the B Ring does not contain any
gaps.. In places, the outer edge of the B Ring contains Until 1980, the structure of the rings of Saturn was
vertical structures deviating up to 2.5 kilometers from the
explained as being caused exclusively by the action of
main ring plane. gravitational forces. Then images from the Voyager
A 2016 study of spiral density waves using stellar occul- spacecraft showed radial features in the B ring, known as
8 9 A RING

spokes,[57][58] which could not be explained in this man-

ner, as their persistence and rotation around the rings was
not consistent with gravitational orbital mechanics.[59]
The spokes appear dark in backscattered light, and bright
in forward-scattered light (see images in gallery); the
transition occurs at a phase angle near 60. The leading
theory regarding the spokes composition is that they con-
sist of microscopic dust particles suspended away from
the main ring by electrostatic repulsion, as they rotate al-
most synchronously with the magnetosphere of Saturn.
The precise mechanism generating the spokes is still un-
known, although it has been suggested that the electrical
disturbances might be caused by either lightning bolts in
Saturns atmosphere or micrometeoroid impacts on the
The spokes were not observed again until some twenty-
ve years later, this time by the Cassini space probe. The
spokes were not visible when Cassini arrived at Saturn in
early 2004. Some scientists speculated that the spokes The Cassini Division imaged from the Cassini spacecraft. The
would not be visible again until 2007, based on models Huygens Gap lies at its right border; the Laplace Gap is towards
attempting to describe their formation. Nevertheless, the the center. A number of other, narrower gaps are also present.
Cassini imaging team kept looking for spokes in images
of the rings, and they were next seen in images taken on
5 September 2005.[60] The inner edge of the Cassini Division is governed by
a strong orbital resonance. Ring particles at this loca-
The spokes appear to be a seasonal phenomenon, disap- tion orbit twice for every orbit of the moon Mimas.[65]
pearing in the Saturnian midwinter and midsummer and The resonance causes Mimas pulls on these ring particles
reappearing as Saturn comes closer to equinox. Sugges- to accumulate, destabilizing their orbits and leading to a
tions that the spokes may be a seasonal eect, varying sharp cuto in ring density. Many of the other gaps be-
with Saturns 29.7-year orbit, were supported by their tween ringlets within the Cassini Division, however, are
gradual reappearance in the later years of the Cassini unexplained.

8.1 Huygens Gap

7.2 Moonlet
The Huygens Gap is located at the inner edge of the
In 2009, during equinox, a moonlet embedded in the B Cassini Division. It contains the dense, eccentric Huy-
ring was discovered from the shadow it cast. It is esti- gens Ringlet in the middle. This ringlet exhibits irregu-
mated to be 400 meters (1,300 ft) in diameter.[62] The lar azimuthal variations of geometrical width and optical
moonlet was given the provisional designation S/2009 S depth, which may be caused by the nearby 2:1 resonance
1. with Mimas and the inuence of the eccentric outer edge
of the B-ring. There is an additional narrow ringlet just
outside the Huygens Ringlet.[54]
8 Cassini Division
The Cassini Division is a 4,800 km (3,000 mi) wide re- 9 A Ring
gion between Saturns A Ring and B Ring. It was dis-
covered in 1675 by Giovanni Cassini at the Paris Ob-
servatory using a refracting telescope that had a 2.5 inch A Ring redirects here. For the letter, see .
objective lens with a 20 foot long focal length and a 90x The A Ring is the outermost of the large, bright rings. Its
magnication.[63][64] From Earth it appears as a thin black inner boundary is the Cassini Division and its sharp outer
gap in the rings. However, Voyager discovered that the boundary is close to the orbit of the small moon Atlas.
gap is itself populated by ring material bearing much sim- The A Ring is interrupted at a location 22% of the ring
ilarity to the C Ring.[54] The division may appear bright width from its outer edge by the Encke Gap. A narrower
in views of the unlit side of the rings, since the relatively gap 2% of the ring width from the outer edge is called the
low density of material allows more light to be transmit- Keeler Gap.
ted through the thickness of the rings (see second image The thickness of the A Ring is estimated to be 10 to 30
in gallery). metres, its surface density from 35 to 40 g/cm2 and its
9.2 Keeler Gap 9

A Ring. There was some ambiguity between the terms

gap and division until the IAU claried the denitions in
2008; before that, the separation was sometimes called
the Encke Division.[71]

9.2 Keeler Gap

Waves in the Keeler gap edges induced by the orbital motion of

The central ringlet of the A rings Encke Gap coincides with Pan's Daphnis (see also a stretched closeup view in the gallery).
orbit, implying its particles oscillate in horseshoe orbits.

total mass as 4 to 51018 kg[55] (just under the mass of

Hyperion). Its optical depth varies from 0.4 to 0.9.[55]
Similarly to the B Ring, the A Rings outer edge is main-
tained by an orbital resonance, in this case the 7:6 res-
onance with Janus and Epimetheus. Other orbital res-
onances also excite many spiral density waves in the A
Ring (and, to a lesser extent, other rings as well), which
account for most of its structure. These waves are de-
scribed by the same physics that describes the spiral arms
of galaxies. Spiral bending waves, also present in the A Near Saturns equinox, Daphnis and its waves cast shadows on
Ring and also described by the same theory, are vertical the A Ring.
corrugations in the ring rather than compression waves.
The Keeler Gap is a 42-kilometre-wide gap in the A Ring,
In April 2014, NASA scientists reported observing the approximately 250 kilometres from the rings outer edge.
possible formative stage of a new moon near the outer The small moon Daphnis, discovered 1 May 2005, or-
edge of the A Ring.[66][67] bits within it, keeping it clear.[72] The moons passage in-
duces waves in the edges of the gap (this is also inu-
enced by its slight orbital eccentricity).[54] Because the
9.1 Encke Gap
orbit of Daphnis is slightly inclined to the ring plane, the
waves have a component that is perpendicular to the ring
The Encke Gap is a 325-kilometre-wide gap within the
plane, reaching a distance of 1.5 km (0.93 mi) above
A Ring, centered at a distance of 133,590 kilometres
the plane.[73][74]
from Saturns center.[68] It is caused by the presence of
the small moon Pan,[69] which orbits within it. Images The Keeler gap was discovered by Voyager, and named
from the Cassini probe have shown that there are at least in honor of the astronomer James Edward Keeler. Keeler
three thin, knotted ringlets within the gap.[54] Spiral den- had in turn discovered and named the Encke Gap in honor
sity waves visible on both sides of it are induced by reso- of Johann Encke.[52]
nances with nearby moons exterior to the rings, while Pan
induces an additional set of spiraling wakes (see image in
gallery).[54] 9.3 Moonlets
Johann Encke himself did not observe this gap; it was In 2006, four tiny "moonlets" were found in Cassini im-
named in honour of his ring observations. The gap itself ages of the A Ring.[75] The moonlets themselves are only
was discovered by James Edward Keeler in 1888.[52] The about a hundred metres in diameter, too small to be seen
second major gap in the A Ring, discovered by Voyager, directly; what Cassini sees are the propeller"-shaped dis-
was named the Keeler Gap in his honor.[70] turbances the moonlets create, which are several kilo-
The Encke Gap is a gap because it is entirely within the metres across. It is estimated that the A Ring contains
10 11 F RING

Propeller moonlet Santos-Dumont from lit (top) and unlit sides The Roche Division (passing through image center) between the
of rings A Ring and the narrow F Ring. Atlas can be seen within it. The
Encke and Keeler gaps are also visible.

region. These were discovered by the Cassini probe imag-

ing team and were given temporary designations: R/2004
S 1, which lies along the orbit of the moon Atlas; and
R/2004 S 2, centered at 138,900 km from Saturns cen-
ter, inward of the orbit of Prometheus.[82][83]

Location of the rst four moonlets detected in the A ring.

11 F Ring
thousands of such objects. In 2007, the discovery of
eight more moonlets revealed that they are largely con-
ned to a 3000 km belt, about 130,000 km from Saturns
center,[76] and by 2008 over 150 propeller moonlets had
been detected.[77] One that has been tracked for several
years has been nicknamed Bleriot.[78]

10 Roche Division
The separation between the A Ring and the F Ring has
been named the Roche Division in honor of the French
physicist douard Roche.[79] The Roche Division should
not be confused with the Roche limit, a physical concept
that describes when a large object gets so close to a planet
(such as Saturn) that the planets tidal forces will pull it
apart.[80] Lying at the outer edge of the main ring system,
the Roche Division is in fact close to Saturns Roche limit,
which is why the rings have been unable to accrete into a
moon.[81] The small moons Pandora (left) and Prometheus (right) orbit on
either side of the F ring. Prometheus acts as a ring shepherd
Like the Cassini Division, the Roche Division is not and is followed by dark channels that it has carved into the inner
empty but contains a sheet of material. The character strands of the ring.
of this material is similar to the tenuous and dusty D,
E, and G Rings. Two locations in the Roche Division The F Ring is the outermost discrete ring of Saturn and
have a higher concentration of dust than the rest of the perhaps the most active ring in the Solar System, with
12.2 G Ring 11

features changing on a timescale of hours.[84] It is lo-

cated 3,000 km beyond the outer edge of the A Ring.[85]
The ring was discovered in 1979 by the Pioneer 11 imag-
ing team.[86] It is very thin, just a few hundred kilo- Janus/Epim. Ring
metres in radial extent. While the traditional view has
G Ring
been that it is held together by two shepherd moons,
Prometheus and Pandora, which orbit inside and outside
it,[69] recent studies indicate only Prometheus contributes
to the connement.[87][88] Numerical simulations suggest
the ring was formed when Prometheus and Pandora col-
lided with each other and were partially disrupted.[89]
Recent closeup images from the Cassini probe show that
the F Ring consists of one core ring and a spiral strand
around it.[90] They also show that when Prometheus en- E Ring
counters the ring at its apoapsis, its gravitational attrac- Pallene Ring
tion creates kinks and knots in the F Ring as the moon
'steals material from it, leaving a dark channel in the in-
ner part of the ring (see video link and additional F Ring
images in gallery). Since Prometheus orbits Saturn more The outer rings seen back-illuminated by the Sun
rapidly than the material in the F ring, each new chan-
nel is carved about 3.2 degrees in front of the previous
one.[84] 12.2 G Ring
In 2008, further dynamism was detected, suggesting that
The G Ring (see last image in gallery) is a very thin, faint
small unseen moons orbiting within the F Ring are con-
ring about halfway between the F Ring and the beginning
tinually passing through its narrow core because of per-
of the E Ring, with its inner edge about 15,000 km in-
turbations from Prometheus. One of the small moons was
side the orbit of Mimas. It contains a single distinctly
tentatively identied as S/2004 S 6.[84]
brighter arc near its inner edge (similar to the arcs in
the rings of Neptune) that extends about one sixth of its
circumference, centered on the half-kilometre diameter
moonlet Aegaeon, which is held in place by a 7:6 orbital
resonance with Mimas.[93][94] The arc is believed to be
composed of icy particles up to a few metres in diam-
eter, with the rest of the G Ring consisting of dust re-
leased from within the arc. The radial width of the arc
is about 250 km, compared to a width of 9,000 km for
the G Ring as a whole.[93] The arc is thought to contain
matter equivalent to a small icy moonlet about a hundred
metres in diameter.[93] Dust released from Aegaeon and
other source bodies within the arc by micrometeoroid
mosaic of 107 images showing 255 (about 70%) of the
impacts drifts outward from the arc because of interac-
F Ring as it would appear if straightened out. The radial
tion with Saturns magnetosphere (whose plasma coro-
width (top to bottom) is 1,500 km.
tates with Saturns magnetic eld, which rotates much
more rapidly than the orbital motion of the G Ring).
These tiny particles are steadily eroded away by further
impacts and dispersed by plasma drag. Over the course
of thousands of years the ring gradually loses mass,[95]
12 Outer rings which is replenished by further impacts on Aegaeon.

12.1 Janus/Epimetheus Ring

12.3 Methone Ring Arc
A faint dust ring is present around the region occupied by
the orbits of Janus and Epimetheus, as revealed by im- A faint ring arc, rst detected in September 2006, cov-
ages taken in forward-scattered light by the Cassini space- ering a longitudinal extent of about 10 degrees is associ-
craft in 2006. The ring has a radial extent of about 5,000 ated with the moon Methone. The material in the arc
km.[91] Its source is particles blasted o the moons sur- is believed to represent dust ejected from Methone by
faces by meteoroid impacts, which then form a diuse micrometeoroid impacts. The connement of the dust
ring around their orbital paths.[92] within the arc is attributable to a 14:15 resonance with

Mimas (similar to the mechanism of connement of the structures observed within the E Ring can be related
arc within the G ring).[96][97] Under the inuence of the to the emissions of the most active south polar jets of
same resonance, Methone librates back and forth in its Enceladus.[103]
orbit with an amplitude of 5 of longitude. Particles of the E Ring tend to accumulate on moons
that orbit within it. The equator of the leading hemi-
sphere of Tethys is tinted slightly blue due to infalling
12.4 Anthe Ring Arc material.[104] The trojan moons Telesto, Calypso, Helene
and Polydeuces are particularly aected as their orbits
move up and down the ring plane. This results in their
surfaces being coated with bright material that smooths
out features.[105]

12.7 Phoebe ring

The Anthe Ring Arc - the bright spot is Anthe

A faint ring arc, rst detected in June 2007, covering a

longitudinal extent of about 20 degrees is associated with
the moon Anthe. The material in the arc is believed to
represent dust knocked o Anthe by micrometeoroid im-
pacts. The connement of the dust within the arc is at-
tributable to a 10:11 resonance with Mimas. Under the The Phoebe rings huge extent dwarfs the main rings. Inset: 24
inuence of the same resonance, Anthe drifts back and micrometer Spitzer image of part of the ring
forth in its orbit over 14 of longitude.[96][97]
In October 2009, the discovery of a tenuous disk of ma-
terial just interior to the orbit of Phoebe was reported.
The disk was aligned edge-on to Earth at the time of dis-
12.5 Pallene Ring
covery. This disk can be loosely described as another
ring. Although very large (the apparent size of two full
A faint dust ring shares Pallenes orbit, as revealed by im-
moons as seen from Earth), the ring is virtually invisible.
ages taken in forward-scattered light by the Cassini space-
[91] It was discovered using NASA's infrared Spitzer Space
craft in 2006. The ring has a radial extent of about
Telescope,[106] and was seen over the entire range of the
2,500 km. Its source is particles blasted o Pallenes sur-
observations, which extended from 128 to 207 times the
face by meteoroid impacts, which then form a diuse ring
[92][97] radius of Saturn,[107] with calculations indicating that it
around its orbital path.
may extend outward up to 300 Saturn radii and inward
to the orbit of Iapetus at 59 Saturn radii.[108] The ring
12.6 E Ring was subsequently studied using the WISE, Herschel and
Cassini spacecraft;[109] WISE observations show that it
The E Ring is the second outermost ring and is extremely extends from at least between 50 and 100 to 270 Saturn
wide; it consists of many tiny (micron and sub-micron) radii (the inner edge is lost in the planets glare). Data
particles of water ice with silicates, carbon dioxide and obtained with WISE indicate the ring particles are small;
ammonia.[98] The E Ring is distributed between the orbits those with radii of greater than[110] 10 cm comprise 10% or
of Mimas and Titan. Unlike the other rings, it is com- less of the cross-sectional area.
posed of microscopic particles rather than macroscopic Phoebe orbits the planet at a distance ranging from 180 to
ice chunks. In 2005, the source of the E Rings mate- 250 radii. The ring has a thickness of about 40 radii.[111]
rial was determined to be cryovolcanic plumes[100][101] Because the rings particles are presumed to have orig-
emanating from the tiger stripes of the south polar re- inated from impacts (micrometeoroid and larger) on
gion of the moon Enceladus.[102] Unlike the main rings, Phoebe, they should share its retrograde orbit,[108] which
the E Ring is more than 2000 kilometers thick and in- is opposite to the orbital motion of the next inner moon,
creases with its distance from Enceladus.[99] Tendril-like Iapetus. This ring lies in the plane of Saturns orbit, or

roughly the ecliptic, and thus is tilted 27 degrees from the equator. The spots have been interpreted as the im-
Saturns equatorial plane and the other rings. Phoebe is pact points of deorbiting ring material.[120] However, tar-
inclined by 5 with respect to Saturns orbit plane (often geted observations by Cassini of the putative ring plane
written as 175, due to Phoebes retrograde orbital mo- from several angles have turned up nothing, suggesting
tion), and its resulting vertical excursions above and be- that another explanation for these enigmatic features is
low the ring plane agree closely with the rings observed needed.[121]
thickness of 40 Saturn radii.
The existence of the ring was proposed in the 1970s by
Steven Soter.[108] The discovery was made by Anne J. 14 Gallery
Verbiscer and Michael F. Skrutskie (of the University of
Virginia) and Douglas P. Hamilton (of the University of
Maryland, College Park).[107][112] The three had studied 15 See also
together at Cornell University as graduate students.[113]
Galileo Galilei the rst person to observe Saturns
Ring material migrates inward due to reemission of solar
rings, in 1610
radiation,[107] with a speed inversely proportional to par-
ticle size; a 3-cm particle would migrate from the vicin- Christiaan Huygens the rst person to propose that
ity of Phoebe to that of Iapetus over the age of the So- there was a ring surrounding Saturn, in 1655
lar System.[110] The material would thus strike the lead-
ing hemisphere of Iapetus. Infall of this material causes Giovanni Cassini discovered the separation be-
a slight darkening and reddening of the leading hemi- tween the A and B rings (the Cassini Division), in
sphere of Iapetus (similar to what is seen on the Ura- 1675
nian moons Oberon and Titania) but does not directly
douard Roche French astronomer who described
create the dramatic two-tone coloration of that moon.[114]
how a satellite that comes within the Roche limit of
Rather, the infalling material initiates a positive feedback
Saturn could break up and form the rings
thermal self-segregation process of ice sublimation from
warmer regions, followed by vapor condensation onto
cooler regions. This leaves a dark residue of lag ma-
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18 Text and image sources, contributors, and licenses

18.1 Text
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Rmhermen, Frecklefoot, Ixfd64, Alo, Jay, Doradus, Phoebe, Topbanana, Donarreiskoer, Postdlf, Diderot, Tea2min, Craig Butz, Smjg,
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tersam, RJHall, El C, Fenevad, Kwamikagami, Remember, Art LaPella, Bobo192, Dralwik, Che090572, Pearle, Alansohn, Arthena,
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Adotchar, CanX 322, Zingvin and Anonymous: 391

18.2 Images
File:A_Ring_propeller_\char"0022\relax{}Santos-Dumont\char"0022\relax{}_(PIA_21433).jpg Source: https://upload.wikimedia.
org/wikipedia/commons/2/25/A_Ring_propeller_%22Santos-Dumont%22_%28PIA_21433%29.jpg License: Public domain Contribu-
tors: http://ciclops.org/view/8503/Cassini-Targets-a-Propeller-in-Saturns-A-Ring

Original artist: NASA / Jet Propulsion Lab-Caltech / Space Science Institute
File:Backlit_Saturn_from_Cassini_Orbiter_2007_May_9.jpg Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6b/
Backlit_Saturn_from_Cassini_Orbiter_2007_May_9.jpg License: Public domain Contributors: http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/
PIA08388 Original artist: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
File:Cassini_Division.jpg Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/13/Cassini_Division.jpg License: Public domain
Contributors: http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA09750 Original artist: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
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jpg License: Public domain Contributors: http://ciclops.org/view_event/110/Towering_Edge_Waves_Pop_Into_View Original artist:
NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
File:Daphnis_makes_waves_-_4x_vertical_stretch.jpg Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e3/Daphnis_
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File:E_ring_with_Enceladus.jpg Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bd/E_ring_with_Enceladus.jpg License:
Public domain Contributors: http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/?IDNumber=PIA08321 Original artist: NASA/JPL/Space Science
18.2 Images 19

File:F_Ring_Dynamism_PIA08290.jpg Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/ff/F_Ring_Dynamism_

PIA08290.jpg License: Public domain Contributors: NASA Original artist: Cassini Spacecraft
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Original artist: Cassini Imaging Team
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cense: Public domain Contributors: http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA07792 Original artist: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
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domain Contributors: Galileo oil portrait in the Uzi, Florence. Original artist: Justus Sustermans
File:Infrared_Ring_Around_Saturn.jpg Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b9/Infrared_Ring_Around_
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File:PIA06534_Encke_Division.jpg Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3c/PIA06534_Encke_Division.jpg
License: Public domain Contributors: http://ciclops.org/view.php?id=552 Original artist: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
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File:PIA08319_Daphnis_in_Keeler_Gap.jpg Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3c/PIA08319_Daphnis_
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main Contributors:
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cense: Public domain Contributors: http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA07653 Original artist: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

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jpg License: Public domain Contributors: ? Original artist: ?
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