Rings of Saturn: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Suzanne Rose

Suzanne has taught all levels PK-graduate school and has a PhD in Instructional Systems Design. She currently teachers literacy courses to preservice and inservice teachers.

Hold on to your hats! Let's take off in a rocket to explore the rings around the planet Saturn! This lesson will explain how the rings were discovered, what they're made of, and some other interesting facts about Saturn's rings.

Saturn, the Ringed Planet

If you have seen pictures of the planets in our solar system, you will remember that Saturn is the planet that has rings around it. Actually, Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune also have rings around them, but their rings are older, and not nearly as amazing to look at as the rings around Saturn.

Photo of Saturn by NASA with the rings highlighted using ultraviolet light.
rings in color

Saturn's rings were first seen by Galileo Galilei in 1610! He used a home-made telescope to look at the stars and planets. When he saw Saturn, Galileo thought he was seeing a big star that had a little star on each side of it.

About 50 years later, another astronomer, Christiaan Huygens, used a more powerful telescope to view Saturn and could see that Saturn actually had rings that went the whole way around it.

In about 1675, Jean-Dominique Cassini discovered that there was a space between two of the rings. This space was later named the Cassini Division after him.

Modern astronomy has discovered many rings and some smaller gaps. There are even two moons that each orbit in smaller gaps!

How Did They Form?

Even though scientists have sent space vehicles to study Saturn, they still aren't sure how the rings formed, although they have several theories:

  • Some scientists believe that one or more moons that used to orbit Saturn were torn apart by Saturn's gravity. The moon pieces left over might be what formed the rings. (Saturn still has 53 moons though!)
  • Other scientists think the rings were formed when comets and asteroids flying by Saturn in space came too close and were pulled into the planet by Saturn's strong gravitational pull. These asteroids and comets were smashed and pieces of them became the rings.
  • Still other scientists think the rings were formed when dust and particles of Saturn itself were thrown into space when something hit the surface of the planet.

These rings could have been formed by ancient moons, comets and asteroids, or particles from Saturn itself!
rings up close

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