Saturn’s B Ring: Why Looks Can Be Deceiving

A dazzling denizen of the outer region of our Solar System, the gas-giant Saturn reigns supreme as the most beautiful planet in our Sun’s family. Flaunting its lovely system of gossamer rings, that are composed of a sparkling host of icy bits that frolic around their planet in a distant dance, this gas-giant planet is cloaked in captivating, majestic mystery. Saturn’s rings have kept their ancient secrets well rings. However, in January 2016, astronomers published their research results showing that they have found an answer to one of Saturn’s many secrets, after “weighing” Saturn’s B ring for the first time.

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Saturn’s rings are named alphabetically according to the order in which they were discovered. The rings are designated, C, B, and A. The A-ring is the outermost, the C-ring is the innermost, while the B-ring is sandwiched between the two. There are also several dimmer rings that were detected more recently. The D-ring is the structure closest to its planet, and it is extremely faint. The thin F-ring is situated just outside of the A-ring, and beyond that there are two much fainter rings designated G and E. The rings show a great deal of structure on every scale, and some are influenced by jostling caused by Saturn’s many moons. However, much still remains to be explained about the nature of the rings.

The rings themselves create a very wide, slender, and gossamer expanse that is approximately 250,000 kilometers across–but less than tens of hundreds of meters thick. From a historical perspective, scientists have had a difficult time explaining the origin and age of Saturn’s rings. Some astronomers believe that they are very ancient, primordial structures that are as old as our 4.56 billion year old Solar System. However, other astronomers propose that they are really very youthful structures

The sparkling bits of ice that make up Saturn’s beautiful system of ethereal rings range in size from frozen smoke-size particles to boulders as big as some skyscrapers in New York City. These frigid, whirling, tiny tidbits pirouette in a faraway ballet as they orbit around Saturn, influencing one another, and twirling around together. The icy, frozen ring fragments are also influenced by their planet’s magnetosphere. The magnetosphere is defined as the region of a planet’s magnetic influence. The very tiny, icy tidbits are also under the irresistible influence of the larger of the 62 moons of Saturn.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft entered Saturn orbit on July 1, 2004, and soon began to obtain some very revealing pictures of this lovely, enormous planet, its many moons, and its famous rings. Even though, at first glance, Saturn appears to be a peaceful, placid planet when it is seen from a distance, closer observations reveal how very deceptive close-up observations of this distant world can be. Closer images derived from the Cassini probe unveiled what has been called the Great Springtime Storm that violently churned up Saturn in the first months of 2011. The powerful, whirling and furious tempest-like storm was reported by NASA on October 25, 2012. Indeed, this storm was so powerful that it displayed a huge cloud cover as large as Earth!