Saturn's rings are iconic and instantly recognizable, but what exactly are they and how did they form first place?

SeekerPublished: July 10, 2018Updated: July 11, 2018
Published: July 10, 2018Updated: July 11, 2018

Saturn's rings -- identified by letters according to their date of discovery --  are made of chunks of ice and rock with pieces ranging in size from a grain of sand to a house. Which means the rings aren't as thin as we make them in our grade school models of the solar system.

If you've ever seen Saturn through a telescope and the rings seem to disappear, it's just because you're seeing them head on from about 746 million miles away. And they're relatively thin compared to Saturn. At various points the rings range from between about 30 to 300 feet thick, while Saturn's diameter is around the order of 72,000 miles-- a little more than 18 times larger than Earth's.

But if you look at a picture of Saturn from above you can see that the rings have a massive diameter - which makes sense since they circle around the planet's equator. The rings, combined, stretch 175,000 miles from Saturn. And they aren't totally solid. Each ring is made of multiple rings that you can see close up.

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