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Rings Around the Planets

Saturn and Uranus Are Not Alone

16 September 2011
Image showing space snapshots that says Great Shots Blog, iconic images from our solar system.
The world is full of a number of things -- did you know that the outer solar system is full of rings?

That's right. Saturn and Uranus are not alone, although it must be said that Saturn's rings are by far the best and the largest -- and the most imaged in the bunch. All of the planets outward from, and including, the biggest planet Jupiter have rings.

Could it be that distant dwarf planet Pluto also has rings? It was recently speculated that Pluto may have a small ring system of its own. Once New Horizons reaches Pluto in 2015 we shall see for ourselves close up views of the icy dwarf, and if it too has rings.

What do you think Pluto's rings could look like if the dwarf planet does have rings? Would they look like Saturn's or like Neptune's rings? Or will Pluto have rings at all? Time will tell. While we are waiting for that new data take a look at the beautiful images of rings in our solar system. (10 images total)

Ultraviolet Light Saturn
In Ultraviolet Light: This image of Saturn was taken when the planet's rings were at their maximum tilt of 27 degrees toward Earth. Saturn experiences seasonal tilts away from and toward the sun over the course of its 29.5-year orbit.

Every 30 years, Earth observers can catch their best glimpse of Saturn's south pole and the southern side of the planet's rings. Between March and April 2003, researchers took full advantage of this fact to study the gas giant at maximum tilt using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope to capture detailed images of Saturn's Southern Hemisphere and the southern face of its rings.

Image Credit: NASA and E. Karkoschka (University of Arizona)

Jupiter's Ring System
Jupiter's Ring System: Jupiter's faint ring system is shown in this color composite as two light orange lines protruding from the left toward Jupiter's limb.

The Voyager 2 spacecraft was at a range of 1,450,000 km (900,000 miles), about two degrees below the plane of the ring. The lower ring image was cut short by Jupiter's shadow on the ring.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Saturn's Ringscape
Ringscape: Nine days before it entered orbit, Cassini spacecraft captured this exquisite natural color view of Saturn's rings.

The brightest part of the rings, curving from the upper right to the lower left in the image, is the B ring. Many bands throughout the B ring have a pronounced sandy color.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Two Views of Uranus' Rings
Two View of Uranus' Rings: This infrared composite image of the two hemispheres of Uranus was obtained with Keck adaptive optics.

The component colors of blue, green and red were obtained from images made at near infrared wavelengths of 1.26, 1.62 and 2.1 microns respectively.

Image Credit: Lawrence Sromovsky, University of Wisconsin-Madison/ W. M. Keck Observatory

Neptune's Rings
Neptune's Rings: This wide-angle Voyager 2 image, taken through the camera's clear filter, is the first to show Neptune's rings in detail.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Backlit Saturn
Enchanting Saturn: Giant Saturn hangs in the blackness and shelters the Cassini spacecraft from the sun's blinding glare. This allowed the spacecraft to view the rings as never before and also revealed previously undiscovered faint rings.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Uranus' Rings in False Color
Uranus' Rings in False Color: This false-color view of the rings of Uranus was made by combining images taken by Voyager 2 from a distance of 4.17 million km (2.59 million miles).

All nine known rings are visible here; the somewhat fainter, pastel lines seen between them are contributed by the computer enhancement.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Jupiter's Rings
Rings Revealed: In this image, by Galileo, we see an eclipse of the sun by Jupiter. Small dust particles high in Jupiter's atmosphere, as well as the dust particles that compose the rings, can be seen by the reflected sunlight.

Image Credit: NASA, JPL, Galileo Project, (NOAO), J. Burns (Cornell) et al.

Rings and Moons
Rings and Moons: A Hubble Space Telescope view reveals Uranus surrounded by its four major rings and by 10 of its known satellites.

The Hubble image is one of the first images revealing the precession of the brightest ring with respect to a previous image. Precession makes the fainter part of the ring (upper right-hand side) slide around Uranus once every nine months. The fading is caused by ring particles crowding and hiding each other on one side of their eight-hour orbit around Uranus.

Image Credit: Erich Karkoschka (University of Arizona) and NASA

True Saturn
True Saturn: This grand mosaic consists of 126 images acquired in a tile-like fashion, covering one end of Saturn's rings to the other and the entire planet in between.

Many of Saturn's splendid features are visible in this one detailed, all-encompassing view: subtle color variations across the rings, the thread-like F ring, ring shadows cast against the blue northern hemisphere, the planet's shadow making its way across the rings to the left, and blue-grey storms in Saturn's southern hemisphere to the right. The tiny moons Mimas and even smaller Janus are both faintly visible at the lower left.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

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