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Saturn’s Outer Rings

The outer rings of Saturn are not as visible as the inner rings. That is because the outer rings do not reflect as much light as the inner rings. Scientists are still discovering rings around Saturn.

An illustration showing Saturn and its rings.

Image from the Hubble Telescope of Saturn. You can see the rings, the planet itself and the shadow of the planet on the rings

There is a theory among astronomers that planetary rings are only temporary. The rings may only last a few million years. In comparison to the age of the Solar System of roughly 4.5 billion years, that isn’t very long. If this is true then in the distant future the rings will disappear. Perhaps another planet will have a set of rings instead. 

An image of Saturn's rings, including Saturn's Outer Rings, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Image from the Hubble Telescope of Saturn. You can see the rings, the planet itself and the shadow of the planet on the rings. (Image Credit: NASAESA and E. Karkoschka (University of Arizona))

Let’s Meet the Outer Rings

These rings of Saturn are over 85,000 miles away. There are a few interesting facts to note about these rings. For example, the F Ring is very narrow and we don’t know why. Rings usually spread out and become wider. This is because the particles in the rings will collide with one another and then move away. There is a similar thin ring around Uranus. Scientists believe that the thinness of this ring might be due to the shepherding moons.

An image of an artistic rendition of Saturn's rings, with the rings being different bright colors.

An artistic rendition of the rings.

The E-ring is centered on Saturn’s moon Enceladus. The thickest area of the E ring is right at Enceladus’ orbit. This suggests that Enceladus is the source of the particles in the E ring. Turns out, this is correct. On the south pole Enceladus there is a geyser. This geyser shoots out jets of water particles into space. These particles are what created the E-ring. Astronomers are still unclear on how the geyser works or where this water originates.
 

F RING

Distance from Saturn (miles): 87,104
Width (miles): 19-311
Description: Active ring with features that change every few hours.
Named after: None
 

JANUS/EPIMETHEUS RING

Distance from Saturn (miles): 92,584 – 95,691
Width (miles): 3,107
Description: Faint dust ring around the region occupied by the orbits of Saturn’s moons. These moons are Janus and Epimetheus.
Named after: Saturn’s moons Janus and Epimetheus
 

G RING

Distance from Saturn (miles): 103,148 – 108,740
Width (miles): 5,592
Description: Thin, faint ring that lies between the F ring and E ring.
Named after: None
 

METHONE RING ARC

Distance from Saturn (miles): 120,689
Width (miles): Unknown
Description: A faint ring arc thought to have come from dust ejected from impacts with Saturn’s moon Methone.
Named after: Saturn’s moon Methone.
 

ANTHE RING ARC

Distance from Saturn (miles): 122,823
Width (miles): Unknown
Description: A faint ring arc thought to have come from dust ejected from impacts with Saturn’s moon Anthe.
Named after: Saturn’s moon Anthe.
 

PALLENE RING

Distance from Saturn (miles): 131,109 – 132,663
Width (miles): 1,553
Description: A faint dust ring thought to have come from dust ejected from impacts with Saturn’s moon Pallene.
Named after: Saturn’s moon Pallene.
 

E RING

Distance from Saturn (miles): 111,847 – 298,258
Width (miles): 186,411
Description: Outermost ring and extremely wide.
Named after: None
 

PHOEBE RING

Distance from Saturn (miles): ~2,485,485 – > 8,077,826
Width (miles): None
Description: A disk of material close to the orbit of Saturn’s moon, Phoebe.
Named after: Saturn’s moon Phoebe.

Note: Remember that “~” means “around” or “approximately” and “>” means “greater than” or “more than”.

An image of the sun setting behind Saturn's Rings.

The Sun setting behind Saturn’s rings in 1995. (Image Credit: Phil Nicholson (Cornell University), Steve Larson (University of Arizona) and NASA)

Other Great Resources

Saturn’s Rings at Maximum Tilthttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrUj_-cgJc8
25 Facts and Stunning Pictures About Saturn’s Ringshttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mKtiK4PKBE