The Physics
An encyclopedia of scientific essays

Thickness of Saturn's Rings

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Bibliographic Entry Result
(w/surrounding text)
Moche, Dinah. Astronomy. New York: Wiley, 1993: 244. "Although the brightest rings are 65,000 km wide, they are only one to three km thick." 1000–3000 m
"Saturn." The World Book Encyclopedia. Chicago: World Book, 1996: 152. "They vary in thickness from about 200 to 3000 meters." 200–3000 m
Hunt, Gary. Saturn. Mitchell Beazley, 1982: 31. "It now appears that the true value is between 100 and 150 meters." 100–150 m
Illingworth, Valerie. The Facts on File Dictionary of Astronomy. New York: Laurence Urdang, 1979: 291. "Now known to consist of numerous individual particles, each a satellite of Saturn, the rings are probably only one to five km thick." 1000–5000 m
Benton, Julius. "The Vanishing Rings of Saturn." Astronomy. 23 (June 1995), 70. "The rings are very wide, about 170,000 miles across, but only about a mile thick." 1600 m

It is obvious from the preceding information that there is no definite agreement on the thickness of Saturn's rings. However, there may be a simple explanation for this. Today, everyone will agree that several rings surround Saturn, each with different dimensions. Thus, unless specifically stated by the author, the reader remains uncertain when it comes to deciding which ring(s) the author is describing the thickness of.

There are three main rings that surround Saturn at its equator. The Cassini Division, named in honor of G. D. Cassini separates the brightest two. The third ring, better known as the Crepe or Dusky Ring, is closer in to the planet and can be described as semi-transparent.

As technology has progressed, new rings surrounding Saturn have been found. Pioneer 11 has detected another ring 3,600 m beyond the outer edge of one of the main rings, once considered to be the outer ring of Saturn. The Voyagers have also discovered two more rings, both having been considered to be excessively tenuous.

Overall, it can be said that the seven rings of Saturn consist of thousands of narrow ringlets, where each ringlet is made up of billions of pieces of ice. These pieces range from ice particles that are the size of dust to chunks of ice that measure more than three meters in diameter.

As a result of all these differences, no one value for the thickness of Saturn's rings can be obtained from these sources. However, if an estimate were to be made, one would consult the most recent sources and come to the conclusion that the thickness of Saturn's rings range anywhere from 200 to 3000 meters.

Zahid Qureshi -- 1998