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Saturn’s Rings
Handles, Rings or Rocks?
Saturn’s Rings were first thought to be attached like
In 1659 Chirstian Hugyens observed that they were
rings Detached from the planet.
The Rings were thought to be thin sheets of material
In the mid 19th century James Clerk Maxwell showed
mathematically that the rings could not be solid, but
must be made of particles
Spectroscopes confirmed this by detecting that
different parts of the rings moved at different
speeds, obeying Kepler’s Laws for Planets
Ring Structure
There are many rings
divided by gaps.
The particles that
make-up the rings
increase in size
with distance from
Two large gaps
divide the rings
into three main
Kirkwood gaps & “Shepherd Moons”
The largest gap,
In 1866 Daniel Kirkwood discovered that
gravity from some of Saturn’s moons
“Cassini’s Gap”
create the gaps and define the limits of
is named after its
the rings
The Roche Limit
There is a distance from a
Planet at which the tidal
forces from the planet will
tear an object of the same
density apart.
It is called the Roche Limit
and is about about 2.44
times the radius of the
Saturn’s Rings extend little
more than twice its radius.
Rings are composed of the
debris of moons, asteroids,
or even comets that
Came too Close!
Here we see the comet
Shoemaker-Levy torn
apart after getting too
close to Jupiter