Saturn 1, Pluto 0

Saturn just made fiancees everywhere green with envy, ’cause she just showed us (aka the Spitzer Space Telescope) her super-huge ring. It may not be the prettiest, but how do you argue with a ring so large it would take more than a BILLION copies of good ol’ Terra, that’s the actual name for the Earth, but the IAU are spoilsports and changed it back to Earth, and then they kicked out Pluto, and then they killed a puppy. One of those isn’t true. Maybe.

Artists rendering.  Courtesy of NASAs Jet Propulsion Lab/AP

Artist's rendering. Courtesy of NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab/AP

In any case, the ring sets the record as the largest structure to be seen around any planet. It’s the grand daddy of all rings, even if you can’t see it with a normal optical telescope. It’s 3.4-3.7 million miles away from Saturn, and dwarfs her other seemingly paper thin rings by being thicker than more than 20 times the width of Saturn. In other words, it’s freaking huge. It’s composed mostly of ice and dust, which makes it hard to see and really, really cold (-316 degrees Fahrenheit). And adding to the fun, this ring dances like Ginger Rogers, in high heels and backwards. The ring is at a 27 degree tilt from Saturn’s main ring plane, putting it right in line with Saturn’s moon, Phoebe, hence why some are calling it the Phoebe Ring. Also, there’s the fact that it’s in a retrograde orbit, just like Phoebe, and most likely comes from dust falling off of Phoebe in much the same way as clothes falling off a stripper, just replace impacting comets with impacting dollar bills and you’ve got yourself a workable, though uncouth, analogy.

And the best part? It explains why Iapetus looks so damn weird.

Iapetus: The Two-Toned Wonder

Iapetus: The Two-Toned Wonder

While Phoebe and the new ring dance together, the rest of Saturn’s moons do not. Iapetus, the mysterious moon in question, rotates with her parent and opposite her sister, Phoebe, meaning that Iapetus has a tendency to slam into the ring as they move together as gracefully as high school dance partners (don’t trust the movies, you remember how poorly you danced back then), but this gives Iapetus her light side and her dark side (one of which as cookies, and it sure isn’t the side with Luke or Obi-Wan on it).


Posted on 10/07/2009, in Geekiness and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. “In other words, it’s freaking huge.” HAHA love it!

  2. Nice, loved the analogies

  3. I had to put on my smart cap to follow along with this post. Glad I did, very interesting. Still haven’t figured which one of the statements in the first paragraph – if any is true

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