Rings of Saturn

In 1610, Galileo, the man who first explored the heavens with a telescope, first noticed something strange about Saturn- it seemed to have things sticking out of its sides!

In 1665, a man called Christian Huygens studied Saturn with a better telescope, and he saw something so strange he was afraid to tell anyone about it! So he sat down his observation in a code, which, when translated, says: “It is girdled by a thin flat ring, nowhere touching, inclined to the ecliptic”.

The rings of the planet Saturn, so startling to the first men who noticed them, still remain one of the great mysteries of our solar system. In fact, such rings exist nowhere else in the heavens.

Of course, aside from the rings, we do know certain things about the planet Saturn. It takes 29 1/2 years to go around the sun, it is second in size to Jupiter, and it has nine satellites that revolve around it. It has an atmosphere around it that we cannot penetrate, but what we do see is not solid matter. There may be some rocky metallic material at the core of the planet.

And it has those three mysterious rings. These rings are all on the same planet (like three rings you might make on a flat dish), and they lie in the plane of Saturn’s equator. The rings extend outwards for about 170,000 miles.

The middle ring is the brightest. It is separated from the outer ring by a dark space. The inner ring is very dim. The rings are made of a continuous mass of solid or liquid matter. They are composed of tiny, separate pieces of matter, but when seen from the earth they seem to be joined. Because of the way the rings are inclined, we first see their northern side and then their southern side. But what they are and why they came into being remains a mystery!



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