What are Saturn’s rings made of?

And why are they there at all?

Lunar Landscape

hiw_310x414Why does Saturn have rings but other planets do not? The answer has to do with something called the Roche lobe, named after a French astronomer. It seems when a planet orbits around a star (eg our Sun) and that planet has its own orbiting objects (eg a moon), a gravitational pull occurs between the objects. Around Earth, orbiting rocks formed into the moon. On Saturn, the rocks never coalesced and are still orbiting.

Interestingly, the rings are only a few miles in thickness because of the highly localised effects from the Roche lobe. Dr Steve Maran, a noted astronomer, says Galileo was the first to discover the rings, but could not explain them. Today, viewing angles from the Hubble Space Telescope reveal an enormous region extending widely around the planet. There’s also one distinct outer ring, which Maran attributes to geysers emitting from the icy southern polar region on Saturn, leaving a more distinct trail.

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