Wednesday, June 7, 2017


I’ve talked before about our solar system as if it were a family, with the sun as the parent, and the planets as the children. The moons, asteroids and other bits would be the grandchildren, I suppose.

I am quite fascinated with our solar system. Until scientists find facts about other solar systems, this is the only one I’ve got to study; these are the only planets I can use as a springboard when my imagination wants to design one for a story. So I keep looking for new things about them that I didn’t know before. Luckily, NASA and scientists keep looking at them, too.

Today’s subject is Saturn and its rings.

You’d think the solar system was a big family, with 9 8 planets and several dwarf planets. But for Saturn, 8 or 9 was not enough. Saturn has 62 moons that have names, and another 9 that have not yet been named. Wow! Can you imagine 71 kids? I’d have lots of trouble remembering half their names, not just 9 of them. I had a couple batches of cousins who had 8 siblings in each family. Gram gave up trying to remember our names; all the girls became ‘Pigtails’ and the boys were ‘Junior’.

I didn’t realize just how many moons Saturn has. One day I will have to start looking more closely at them, but today, I’m looking at the rings.

There are 7 rings. They don’t exactly have names, but each is designated by a letter. I suspect the letters were assigned as the individual rings were discovered, because otherwise, there doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason for the assignments.

If you start at Saturn and move away from the planet, you arrive at Ring D, then Ring C, Ring B and Ring A. Continue outward, and you will find Ring F, Ring G and Ring E. Between each pair of rings is a gap, a space that is not absolutely empty, but is relatively empty compared to the rings. (I haven’t figured out if any of the gaps is home to a moon, but I do know that some of the moons are somewhere in the ‘rings’. Some day, I have to figure that out.) Each ring and gap is its own width, meaning the distance between the side closest to Saturn and the side furthest from Saturn.

But they are also thin, meaning the distance from the ‘top’ of the ring to the ‘bottom’. Thickness for all the rings is less than 1 km.

If there is one thing Saturn’s rings are, it’s not consistent. The various rings are made up of water ice particles (with a trace of rock for flavoring), but those particles range from the size of a grain of sugar to the size of a house.

The rings are a very busy place. With 71 moons of various sizes orbiting around this big ol’ gas giant, the gravity and magnetic fields are forever fluctuating. The latest probe documented ‘lines’ in some rings, which are called spokes. The spokes come and go, and they aren’t sure what causes them, but they suspect they are a temporary ‘pile-up’ (traffic jam) of particles caused by the gravity or magnetic fields. Or maybe by electricity leaking from storms in Saturn’s upper atmosphere.

And spokes are not the only oddity in the rings. Ring F seems to be ‘braided’. Who taught those particles how to do that?

But don’t worry about Saturn’s rings. Some of the moons (bigger siblings) act as shepherds for the rings, using their gravity/magnetic fields to keep the ring particles where they belong. More or less.

I’ve just barely touched on Saturn, but that’s all for today. After all, it is a gas giant, with a huge family; too big a subject for me to explore the entire thing in one sitting.

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