Giant Ring Around Saturn

In 2009, NASA announced that the Spitzer telescope in space had detected a previously unknown giant ring around Saturn. The inner radius of the vaporous ring is 6 million kilometers from Saturn and the outer radius is 12 million kilometers out. The thickness or vertical height of the ring is estimated to be around 2.4 million kilometers. One of Saturn’s 62 moons, Phoebe, orbits just beyond the outer edge of this ring and may be connected to it somehow.

NASA Space Telescope Discovers Largest Ring Around Saturn – [nasa.gov]

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has discovered an enormous ring around Saturn — by far the largest of the giant planet’s many rings.

The new belt lies at the far reaches of the Saturnian system, with an orbit tilted 27 degrees from the main ring plane. The bulk of its material starts about six million kilometers (3.7 million miles) away from the planet and extends outward roughly another 12 million kilometers (7.4 million miles). One of Saturn’s farthest moons, Phoebe, circles within the newfound ring, and is likely the source of its material.

Saturn’s newest halo is thick, too — its vertical height is about 20 times the diameter of the planet. It would take about one billion Earths stacked together to fill the ring.

Revealed: Saturn’s secret ‘doughnut’ ring … big enough to contain one billion Earths – [dailymail.co.uk]

With it being so huge many will ask how come it was not seen before. This is because the ring is extremely diffuse and doesn’t reflect much visible light but its dusty particles, despite being very cold, shine with infrared light, or heat radiation which Spitzer is able to see.

The Spitzer telescope is an infrared space observatory launched in 2003. Located in deep space it orbits the Sun. With a 85cm mirror and three science instruments it is able to study objects within the solar system as well as those in the distant reaches of the universe.

Before the discovery Saturn was known to have seven main rings named A through E and several faint unnamed rings.

The thin array of ice and dust particles lies at the far reaches of the Saturnian system, which contains Saturn and its 61 moons. Its orbit is tilted 27 degrees from the planet’s main ring plane, Whitney Clavin from Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) which manages Spitzer.

Although the ring dust is very cold – minus 316 degrees Fahrenheit – it shines with thermal radiation.

No one had looked at its location with an infrared instrument until now, said Ms Clavin.

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