Rings Around Planets

No, these planets didn’t listen to Beyonce and get inspired to “put a ring on it”, nor are these rings anything like you would get at your local jewelry shop. Rings around planets are actually made up of little pieces of rock and ice. Comets, asteroids, and other massive objects that fly by certain planets are obliterated by the strength of that planet’s gravity. 

The act of a planet’s gravity tearing apart a large object is known as the Roche Limit. The Roche Limit is a point in the gravitational pull that objects get pulled apart so that they don’t reform back into a larger, hazardous object. Essentially, rings are a consequence of natural, planetary protection!

You can think about these rings as a composition of thousands and thousands of moon-like objects that don’t have the power to clump back up into larger formations. Each of these tiny ice and rock particles maintain their individual orbits around the planet that they are near. It is only from far away that they appear to be one singular ring.

When Were Rings Around Planets Discovered?

Thanks to the fact that Saturn is a massive planet, it is one of the most easily identifiable targets for astronomers. This is especially true because it has a unique ring system that has been a fascinating point of reference for astronomers over the past few hundred years. Galileo Galilei was the first man to ever observe the rings of Saturn in the year 1610. At first, he thought that the rings were large moons that were sat on both sides of the planet. After continuing to observe it for many years, he finally realized that these rings would change shape and size as the Earth rotated.

In 1655, an astronomer by the name of Christiaan Huygens guessed that the bodies circulating Saturn were actually solid rings. About five years later, the idea that they were actually a large composition of smaller, singular bodies popped up. It wasn’t until the Pioneer 11 passed through the ring of Saturn that we confirmed that idea.

Biggest Ring Known To Man

Saturn may have the largest and most impressive rings in our solar system, though they aren’t the largest in the universe by a long shot. A team of astronomers just recently discovered a massive ring system around a planet far outside of our solar system. They call this planet J1407b.

This ring system is enormous, about 200 times heavier than the rings of Saturn. The planet is about 434 light years away from our planet and was the very first of these large, ring-type planets found outside of our own Solar System. The ring system is said to be made up of about 30 different rings, each of which is over 10 million km in diameter. 

Fun Facts About Rings Around Planets

The ring system of Jupiter is actually made up of four main components. There is thicker, inner torus known as the halo ring, which is made of millions of small particles. Next up is the main ring, which may be one of the brightest, though is very thin. At the outside lie two very thick, wide, and faint rings known as gossamer rings. These rings are made up of materials that come from the moons of Jupiter, Amalthea, and Thebe. This is why scientists refer to these rings as the Amalthea Ring and the Thebe Ring.

Saturn is made up of 12 different rings, though they are only divided into two categories. It is the biggest ring system that we know of in our solar system. There are a large variety of gaps in the ring where the density of the particles orbiting is heavily reduced. These gaps are typically caused by the Moons of Saturn entering the gaps and creating odd resonances that clear the space around them.

The rings of Neptune were not discovered until 1989 when the Voyager 2 passed by them in a flyby. As of now, we have observed about six different rings in the system, though each is fairly faint. These rings are incredibly dark, which leads scientists to believe that were processed through different forms of radiation. These rings are very similar to the rings on Uranus, and just like Uranus and Saturn, there are four moons that orbit within the ring system.

How Far Is The Nearest Ring Around A Planet?

The closest set of planetary rings to us happens to be Jupiter’s rings. The rings of Jupiter were not discovered until 1979 when the Voyager 1 spacecraft passed by them. Eventually, NASA’s Galileo spacecraft decided to investigate them more during the early 1990s. These observations led to the conclusion that there were four sets of rings around Jupiter. These rings are about 92,000 kilometers away from the surface of the planet and stretch to about 122,500 kilometers away.

Latest News About Rings Around Planets

Astronomers have detected the very first moon-forming ring around a planet far beyond our solar system. Scientists found one of the first moon-forming rings when they discovered the rings of Jupiter. They expected that they would eventually find these same moon-forming rings in other systems. The planet that they are now analyzing is known as PDS 70 c. It is about the size of Jupiter and is very similar in that it is a gas giant that is orbiting around a small star. The planet is about 370 light-years away from our Earth. The rings were discovered thanks to the ALMA observatory.