Have you ever seen those beautiful images of Saturn? The planet is one of the most unique planets in our solar system. Saturn’s rings have dazzled confused scientists for many years. Thankfully in the past ten years many things have been discovered – most importantly the reason behind the existence of these rings.
Galileo was actually the first person to discover the rings around Saturn back in the year 1610. Although he was the first to note the existence, he didn’t actually consider them rings. Remember, 400 years ago Galileo was only able to use a very basic telescope. He had actually described Saturn as “having ears”.
It wasn’t until 1655 that Christiaan Huygens was able to discover and classify Saturn’s “ears” as rings. Even though it was only 45 years after Galileo, Huygens was using a telescope that was roughly 50 times stronger than any telescope Galileo was able to use.
Today, with a type of telescope one would find in a modern household, there is a small chance you would be able to make out the rings of Saturn due to light pollution. Unless you are living in a Nassau County apartment in New York, or a similar suburb that isn’t overpopulated and over-lit, than you may actually be able to make the rings out using a telescope.
Now it wasn’t until 1675 that another astrologer realized that Saturn’s “ring” was actually composed of many smaller rings. This astrologer’s name was Giovanni Domenico Cassini. The large empty area between Saturn’s major ring A and ring B was named after Cassini – it is called the Cassini Division.
In 1859 James Clerk Maxwell concluded that the rings must be small particles and space debris (rocks and small asteroids) and that the rings couldn’t be one large solid ring or else it would break apart. This belief was later proven correct in 1895.
The real question many people ask is: How many rings does Saturn really have? Well unfortunately the answer is almost impossible to say for sure. What most people will see when looking at an image of Saturn are 3 large and wide different ring systems. If you look in closer, however, scientists have named even more ring systems. Scientists have classified the ring systems from ring system A through ring system F. Each of these ring systems have divisions and ring sets within them – so we are realistically looking at over 30 separate ring systems that Saturn has.
So what about the other question? How did Saturn get their rings? Finally in 2011, like a Thomas Edison lightbulb going off above their heads, most scientists agree that large bodies of rocks either crashed into Saturn’s atmosphere and got destroyed or crashed into other large bodies and broke apart within Saturn’s gravitational pull. Since Saturn has 60 moons it is very possible it used to have more. Scientists do believe that one or two of these moons may have been destroyed and added to the ring systems found around the planet. Without the destruction of these moons there may very well be no huge and beautiful rings around Saturn – our Solar System’s most unique planet.
Thomas Edison Quote “Its obvious that we don’t know one millionth of one percent about anything.”
Post provided in part by: Bergen County Bed Bugs