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Starts With A Bang

The most beautiful rings in the Solar System (that aren’t Saturn’s)

Think Saturn is the only ringed world? The story is far better than that!

“The phenomena of nature, especially those that fall under the inspection of the astronomer, are to be viewed, not only with the usual attention to facts as they occur, but with the eye of reason and experience.” –William Herschel

The ringed planet is Saturn, right? Not so fast; the other three gas giants all have ring systems of their own.

A stitching together of two 591-s exposures obtained through the clear filter of the wide angle camera from Voyager 2, showing the full ring system of Neptune with the highest sensitivity. Image credit: NASA / JPL.

While Saturn’s rings are nearly as bright as the planet itself, the rings of the other worlds are dark, completely invisible to all but the most powerful telescopes.

Image credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell University, of a mosaic of Jupiter’s rings from the Galileo spacecraft.

Saturn’s rings were discovered as soon as the first telescope was invented, but the other rings weren’t found until 1977 (Uranus), 1979 (Jupiter) and 1984 (Neptune).

Image credit: NASA/Voyager 2 Team, of the Adams and LeVerrier rings around Neptune, taken in 1989.

The Uranian ring system was found with ground-based searches, with observations uncovering nine separate rings in just the first year.

Image credit: NASA / Voyager 2, of Uranus’ rings in forward-scattered light (L) and back-scattered light (R). The slight mismatch is due to the eccentricities of the rings’ structures.

Visits from the Voyager spacecraft uncovered two more, while Hubble imaging brought the total up to 13.

The final two (outermost) rings of Uranus, as discovered by Hubble. Image credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Showalter (SETI Institute).

By contrast, Jupiter has only four separate rings, all interior to its innermost giant moon: Io.

Jupiter’s main ring in backscattered (top) and forward-scattered (bottom) light, from New Horizons. NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

Neptune, similarly, has only five rings, all interior to its large inner moon: Proteus.

The rings of Neptune, taken with Voyager 2′s wide-angle camera and overexposed. You can see how continuous the rings are in this photo. Image credit: NASA / JPL.

It’s thought that these rings formed by organic compounds from either colliding, destroyed moons or ejecta via the extant moons.

Jupiter and its rings, bands and other heat-sensitive features in the infrared. Image credit: user Trocche100 at the Italian Wikipedia.

The small, innermost moons of Neptune and Jupiter shepherd their great, dusty rings.

A computer enhanced version of all nine (at the time) known rings of Uranus, as imaged by Voyager 2. The brightest (top) ring is the epsilon ring, while the others are shown with enhanced color differences. Image credit: NASA / JPL.

Contrariwise, Uranus’ rings simply are, consisting of mostly rocks up to 20 meters in size.

Mostly Mute Monday tells the story of a single astronomical phenomenon or object primarily in visuals, with no more than 200 words of text.

This post first appeared at Forbes. Leave your comments on our forum, check out our first book: Beyond The Galaxy, and support our Patreon campaign!


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