Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Lords of the rings

There are actually four planets in our solar system with rings, although some of the ring systems are so faint that they are difficult to detect.  These planets - Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune - are all gas giants.

  Jupiter is the largest planet in our Solar System, but its rings are faint.  This is one of the reasons it was the third planet discovered with rings, although it is closer to Earth than the other gas giants.  Jupiter's ring system is composed of three main sections.  The inner band is known as the halo;  the main ring is shiny compared to the others, but it's a very thin band.

  The outer band, known as the web ring, is made up of two wide rings.  Jupiter's rings are composed of dust, which is believed to come from two of Jupiter's moons - Amalthea and Thbe.  The two web rings are named after the moons.

  Saturn has the brightest ring system of any planet in our Solar System, which is why it was the first planet with rings discovered.  Galileo was the first person to discover Saturn's rings using the telescope he had designed.  Unfortunately, he couldn't see them clearly enough to determine what they were.  Saturn's rings are divided into five segments, which listed inside out are rings C, B, A, F and G. In fact, these larger rings are divided into thousands of small rings.  Saturn's rings are mostly made of ice, although there are impurities in them.  There are many gaps in Saturn's rings, two of which are made by embedded moons.

  Several astronomers discovered Uranus' rings in 1977. Famous astronomer William Herschel claimed to have seen the rings more than 200 years ago, but many astronomers doubt this was possible because Uranus' rings are so difficult to see.  Uranus' rings can be divided into 13 separate rings and there is a varied classification system for the rings that includes Greek letters, numbers and a combination of English letters and numbers.  Uranus' rings are believed to be composed mainly of ice water with dust and a few other particles.

  Neptune's rings were not discovered until nearly twenty years ago by the Voyager 2 spacecraft. The rings are so faint that they could not be seen clearly from Earth.  Neptune has five separate rings, which are named after the inner ring: Galle, Le Verrier, Lassel, Arago and Adams.  Neptune is the only planet with rings with people's names, all of them famous astronomers.  You might recognize the names Le Verrier and Adams.  They were the astronomers who independently predicted Neptune's position in the sky.  The red rings are very dusty and are also composed of ice and organic compounds processed by radiation.


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