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Supersized Ring Circles Saturn

Scientists recently discovered another ring around the planet Saturn. The ring is so big it would take 1 billion Earths to fill it!

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

“If you were to stand in the ring [where the tiny pieces of ice and dust are], you wouldn’t even know the ring was there,” explained Anne Verbiscer. A scientist at the University of Virginia, she is part of the team that discovered the ring.

Finding the Eighth Ring

For years, Saturn has been known to have seven rings. Thanks to a special telescope, scientists now know that there is an eighth ring.

The telescope is called the Spitzer telescope. It helps scientists see space differently than with regular telescopes. Regular telescopes make objects appear bigger. The Spitzer telescope finds objects by sensing their temperature. Saturn’s super ring has a temperature of minus 316°F. Verbiscer said that finding the ring was easy for the telescope.

The newly found ring begins almost 4 million miles from Saturn. It spreads outward more than 7 million miles. The ring is not only wide but thick. Its height is about 20 times that of the planet Saturn itself. It is the biggest known ring in our solar system.

"This is one supersized ring," said Verbiscer.

Not the Same Old Rings

Saturn’s recently 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 orbits, or circles, Saturn in the opposite direction from the other rings.

Saturn's moon Phoebe [FEE-bee] orbits Saturn within the ring. When Phoebe gets hit by space rocks and comets, pieces of rocky dust and ice break off. Scientists believe that this dusty matter is what makes up the ring.


sn ts skills

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

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