How Many Rings Does Saturn Have?

by Fraser Cain on August 22, 2009

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Saturn's Rings. Image credit: NASA/JPL/SSI
Saturn is best known for its elaborate ring system. They’re made of icy particles orbiting the planet. The rings have distinct divisions, and astronomers have separate designations for each of Saturn’s rings. But how many rings does Saturn have?

The question is actually impossible to answer. Saturn has more than a dozen rings and gaps within the rings – and more are being discovered by spacecraft like NASA’s Cassini. But the planet does have several major ring systems and gaps within them.

The two densest parts of the rings are the A and B rings, separated by the Cassini Division, and then the C Ring. So, is that 3 rings, or 4? Whatever the case, these comprise Saturn’s main rings.

After the 3 main rings, you have the smaller, dusty rings: the D Ring, G Ring, E Ring, and others beyond that. There’s also the F Ring, which is just outside the A Ring.

That’s 3 main rings and 5 dusty rings for a total of 8 rings, 9 if you count the Cassini Division.

But there are even more rings around Saturn. There’s the Janus Ring, the Methone Ring Arc, the Anthe Ring Arc and the Pallene Ring, as well as the Roche Division. 4 more rings and another division.

That brings us to 12 rings and 2 divisions.

But then there are also smaller divisions and gaps within the various rings that would bring the total to more than 30 (the Encke Gap, the Huygens Gap, the Dawes Gap, and many more).

To answer the question, how many rings does Saturn have, you really need to find out how closely you’re looking. From what you might be able to see, there are 3 rings. With powerful telescopes, you can make out 8 rings. And with spacecraft like Cassini orbiting Saturn, that total rises above 30.

We have written many articles about Saturn’s rings for Universe Today. Here’s an article about a time when Saturn’s rings were disappearing, and here’s an article about vertical structures that tower above Saturn’s rings.

Here’s the same question answered by Ask an Astronomer. Here’s an easier question, how many moons does Saturn have?

We have done an entire episode of Astronomy Cast all about Saturn. Give it a listen.

Reference:
NASA

About 

Fraser Cain is the publisher of Universe Today. He's also the co-host of Astronomy Cast with Dr. Pamela Gay.

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