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Supersized Ring Circles Saturn

Scientists recently discovered another ring around the planet Saturn. It is so large that 1 billion Earths would be needed to fill it!

Why hasn’t this giant ring been seen before? The ring is made up of ice and dust particles that do not reflect much light and are very spread out.

“The particles are so far apart that if you were to stand in the ring, you wouldn’t even know it,” explained Anne Verbiscer of the University of Virginia. She is one of the astronomers who discovered the ring.

Finding the Eighth Ring

For years, Saturn has been known to have seven main rings. Thanks to the Spitzer telescope, astronomers now know that an immense eighth ring exists. The telescope, which was launched in 2003, is orbiting, or circling, the sun. The U.S. space agency NASA launched it.

The Spitzer telescope, which is the size of a car, helps scientists see space differently than with regular telescopes. Most telescopes magnify distant objects. The Spitzer telescope detects objects in space based on their temperature. Verbiscer said that detecting Saturn’s super ring, at a temperature of minus 316°F, was easy for the Spitzer telescope.

Saturn’s newly found ring is about 7.4 million miles in width. The ring is not only wide but thick—its height is about 20 times that of the planet Saturn. It is the biggest known ring in our solar system.

"This is one supersized ring," said Verbiscer.

Not the Same Old Rings

Saturn’s newly discovered ring is different from the planet’s other rings. It is more than 200 times thicker than the others. It tilts at a different angle. Finally, it circles Saturn in the opposite direction from the other rings.

Saturn's moon Phoebe orbits within the ring and is believed to be the source of the ring’s material. Astronomers think the dust and ice that make up the ring have broken off Phoebe as a result of space rocks and comets hitting it.


sn ts skills

Learn more about the planets in our solar system with this chart-reading activity.

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