|Why does Saturn have a ring that floats?|
|Question Date: 2013-02-19|
Good question! Saturn’s rings are made up of
billions of “dust” particles that orbit around
the planet. These “dust” particles are actually
pieces of ice and rock that range in size from
millimeters (the size of sand) to meters (the
size of cars) across. They orbit Saturn like
satellites because they are attracted to the
planet’s gravitational field. These particles
are spinning because of the physical law of
conservation of angular momentum. This law
states that once something starts spinning, it
won’t stop unless something interferes with it.
The spinning causes the cloud of particles to
flatten into rings.
The rings of Saturn, which are made up of
mostly chunks of ice, orbit around Saturn due to
two forces. Just like gravity pulls everything
on Earth, the rings are “falling” towards
Saturn. However, they are also moving “past”
Saturn. The combination of these forces is an
orbit around Saturn.
Saturn's rings are actually made of many
particles of ice and rock. These particles orbit
Saturn, and they do so because there is a
balance between Saturn's pull of gravity on them
and their own forward motion in space. The
particles have a certain amount of "inertia" or
tendency to stay in (forward/linear) motion, but
Saturn's gravitational pull results in the
particles not moving "forward" but "around"
The ring doesn't float so much as orbits.
Saturn's rings are composed of millions of tiny
moons that orbit the planet just as Earth's moon
orbits the Earth.
Saturn's rings are composed of particles of
ice and dust that orbit
the planet in a very discrete plane. They are
in orbit because they
are moving too quickly to be caught by Saturn's
Thus, the rings are not "floating", rather, they
are flying at
thousands of miles per hour in a circular path
around the planet.
Scientists have shown that there are many
individual rings, some of
which are in precise gravitational balance
between Saturn's moons and
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