Planets with Rings

There are several planets in our solar system that have rings.  The gas giants, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune all have them encircling their bodies.

Jupiter, the largest planet, has a very faint set of rings.  As a result, they were discovered long after Saturn’s bright rings.  The Voyager I probe observed the ring system in 1979.  There are four rings in the system- an inner ring, a main ring, and a Gossamer ring which is actually two rings, one embedded in another.

The inner ring, or halo, is toroidal in shape and is formed from fine particles of dust from the main ring that are falling toward the planet.  The brightest, main ring extends from the inner boundary of about 76,000 miles from Jupiter’s center to about 80,000 miles out.  The two fainter Gossamer rings extend out up to 132,000 miles.  All of Jupiter’s rings are believed to have formed from dust from the moons Amalthea and Thebe.

Saturn has perhaps the most well-known rings of any planet in the solar system.  They were discovered by Galileo with his telescope in 1610.  There are five main sections, referred to as the C, B, A, F, and G rings moving inward.  The rings are divided into thousands of thinner rings, and are made up of ice.  There are many unanswered questions as to how Saturn’s intricate rings were formed.  When Voyager I and II photographed the rings in 1980 and 1980, it was revealed that many gaps and thin rings exist in the structure, making it more complex than previously imagined.

The rings of Uranus were discovered in 1977.  There are 13 separate rings, which are made up of mostly water, ice, and dust, as well as other particles.  The classification system for the rings involves Greek letters, English letters, and numbers.  Many of Uranus’ rings are not circular, but elliptical, and centered off of the equator.

Neptune’s rings were discovered by the Voyager II.  The five very faint rings cannot be seen from Earth and are named Galle, Leverrier, Lassel, Arago, and Adams.  They are all named after famous astronomers.  The rings are red in color and made up of dust and ice.  The rings of Neptune are very thin and thought to contain radiation-processed organic compounds.

Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune all have rings with varying degrees of brightness.  The rings systems can be quite complex, but are normally made up of ice or dust.