During a 2009 mission, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope discovered that Saturn has a huge, practically invisible ring surrounding it. However, at that time, scientists couldn’t gather enough data for describing the ring more precisely. Recently obtained data is suggesting that the ring, which the scientists refer to as the Phoebe ring, is even bigger than originally presumed.
The Phoebe ring begins around 3.75 miles away from Saturn and has a width of over 6 million miles. To put it otherwise, you would have been able to arrange around 170 Saturns along the ring’s width. That’s not all; in entirety, the area covered by the ring is enough for accommodating 7,000 Saturn.
In spite of being such massive in size, the ring is primarily made up of dark pieces of dust that are smaller even than the thickness of a human hair. According to experts, these dark dust particles handle keeping the Phoebe ring invisible. Scientists managed to detect the ring’s presence through infrared observations carried out using the Spitzer Space Telescope and the WISE spacecraft, another property of NASA.
Here, it must be mentioned that the Phoebe Ring is the outermost ring of Saturn. The inner rings of the planet, unlike this outermost ring, are made up of big chunks of rock and ice; the sizes of these chunks tend to vary between the size of a house and that of a soccer ball.
This new study using the WISE spacecraft has been carried out by a team of scientists led by Prof. Douglas Hamilton. Prof. Hamilton teaches astronomy at the College Park campus of the University of Maryland. The study has been published on Wednesday’s edition of the science journal Nature.
This revelation made by the research team led by Prof. Hamilton will surely be changing some facts as far as the comparisons between Saturn’s ring and the ring around exoplanet J1407b. Originally it was believed that J1407b’s ring is 200 times wider than the outermost ring of Saturn.
Scientists are now planning to use large ground telescopes for taking a closer look at Saturn’s massive outermost ring. Our planet is home to several such telescopes, for instance, the Mauna Kea in Hawaii.