“How did Saturn’s rings get built?”

Neon Saturn: A false color mosaic of 25 images of Saturn taken by the Cassini spacecraft over a period of 13 hours. (Image Credit: NASA)

Excellent question, young Caterpickle. Although astronomers are pretty sure that Saturn’s rings are composed mostly of water ice, they are still trying to figure out where all that water ice came from. Data collected by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft suggests that different rings may have been built in different ways.

Saturn’s gravity built at least some of the rings out of a cloud of dust and ice that coalesced around the planet when the Solar System formed some 4.6 billion years ago. Other rings may have been formed by the moons themselves. Photos from Cassini show Enceladus and other moons located in the gaps between the rings contributing salty ice and other material to them. (Not all the moons act so selflessly, by the way. Cassini has found at least one moon that is busily stealing material from Saturn’s narrow F Ring.)

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About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book will focus on science, and how parents without a science degree can answer their curious child's questions without enrolling in a college level refresher course. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Eleven-Year-Old at Caterpickles.com, chatting about books and the writing life at BostonWriters.blog, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
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