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Here’s a question, how many rings does Uranus have? Well, as of 2008, the total number of rings circling Uranus is 13.
The rings of Uranus were first discovered in 1977 by astronomers James Elliot, Edward Dunham and Douglas Mink. When he first discovered Uranus 200 years before, William Herschel reported seeing rings around Uranus, but his telescope probably wasn’t powerful enough to reveal them. Additional rings were discovered in 1986 when NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft made its flyby, and then two more outer rings were turned up by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2003-2005.
The rings of Uranus are dark and opaque, with a very low albedo. Astronomers believe that they’re made of water ice mixed with organic molecules. Unlike Saturn’s rings, the rings of Uranus are very narrow; just a few kilometers wide.
Uranus’ rings consist of 3 major groups. There are the narrow main rings, the dusty rings, and the newly discovered outer ring system.
Astronomers think that the rings of Uranus are being shepherded by small moons in the ring system. Without these shepherd moons, the rings of Uranus would spread out radially and dissipate into space. It’s also believed that there’s some process that’s replenishing the ice particles in the rings; perhaps collisions between icy objects in the rings.
I mentioned at the beginning of the article that current ring count stands at 13; however, that’s for 2008. With improved technology and telescopes, astronomers could turn up more rings in the future, so stay tuned.
We have also recorded an entire episode of Astronomy Cast just about Uranus. Check it out here.