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September 2, 2009

Discoveries Regarding The Rings Of Saturn!

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Filed under : General

saturnOne of the greatest mysteries of the universe is that of the rings that surround the planet Saturn. Some studies have been done regarding these rings over the years.

The rings of Saturn:

One source suggests that Galileo Galilei first observed the planetary rings in 1610. It is possible that these rings were observed earlier than this time as well, but most people know and remember the name Galileo the best.

Galileo found the rings in his telescope, however, it has been said that he was unable to identify the rings as such. Galileo had actually thought that Saturn was not one planet, but three planets connected together. These three planets were said to almost touch one another and never move or change in respect to one another.

According to some studies, Christiaan Huygens was noted to be the first to believe that a ring surrounded Saturn. This discovery was made in 1655. He described the ring as one that surrounds the planet, but that does not touch the planet (in different words, of course).

In the year 1675, Giovanni Domenico Cassini had learned that Saturn’s ring was actually composed of smaller rings with gaps between them. The largest of these was called the Cassini Division.

Much later, James Clerk Maxwell has proved that the rings of Saturn were not solid. His explanation was that if they were solid they would become unstable and begin to break apart. Therefore, he has concluded that the rings of Saturn are composed of numerous smaller particles. These all orbit Saturn independently, according how some people interpret his thinking.

Maxwell had developed his theory in 1859, and later on James Keeler, who had conducted spectroscopic studies in 1895, proved this theory correct. Other people in later years were known to be able to view the rings of Saturn from a pair of binoculars (a small device with two lenses that works similar to a telescope).

Within more recent years more information has been learned about the specific Saturn’s rings, as well as the entire planet of Saturn itself. The rings of Saturn are composed of silica rock, iron oxide, and ice particles. These particles range in size from specks of dust to the size of a small automobile. The particles and substances that make up the rings of Saturn range from 6,630 km to 120, 700 km above Saturn’s equator, and are approximately one kilometer thick.

There are two well-known theories regarding the formation of the rings of Saturn. Edouard Roche originally introduced one of those theories during the 19th Century. He believed that Saturn’s rings used to be a moon whose orbit had decayed and ripped apart by tidal forces. A similar theory suggests that a former moon of Saturn was struck by a large comet or asteroid, and then afterwards had disintegrated.

The second theory is that the rings of Saturn were never a part of a moon. Instead, some experts believe that these rings are remains of the nebular material that Saturn was originally formed from. This theory is not as widely accepted as other theories, such as the one mentioned in the previous paragraph. The reason why is that the rings of Saturn were said to have formed too recently (recent to some scientists is a few hundred million years).

The largest gaps in the rings, such as the Cassini division and Encke division can be seen from Earth. In addition, Voyager spacecrafts have helps scientists to be able to take a more close-up look at these rings. During the Voyager program it has been noted that the large rings of Saturn are actually made up of a detailed web of thin gaps and ringlets.

The gaps and ringlets that make up Saturn is thought to have occurred as a result of the gravitational pull of Saturn’s many moons. In addition, some of these gaps are said to have been cleared out by tiny moonlet passages such as Pan. There are also many more that are yet to be discovered.

Other gaps that exist in Saturn’s rings are believed to have been created by resonances that take place between orbiting particles and of a more massive moon further out. Spiral waves also exist within Saturn’s rings. The effects of one or more of Saturn’s orbiting moons also cause this.

Other important discoveries regarding the rings of Saturn have been made over the centuries besides the ones in this article. You definitely will want to read about those when you have the chance to do so.

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