What would Saturn’s rings look like from the surface of the planet?
Since Saturn is a gaseous planet, it’s not possible to send any sort of spacecraft to the surface. However, several probes have performed flybys – the first being NASA’s Pioneer 11, which came within 21,000 kilometres (13,048 miles) of Saturn’s cloud tops. It passed under the ring planes, and images showed a reversal of what we see from Earth through a telescope: the rings looked dark and the gaps between them looked bright. This is probably because sunlight was passing through the gaps, and not reflecting off the icy dust particles in the rings.
Further probes, including the recent Cassini, have shown us there are seven main groups of rings, but the total number is unknown. There are also moons embedded in the rings, and the particles within the rings are always moving and reforming. Information from Cassini led astronomers to speculate that some of the rings even have their own atmosphere. Add to all this the fact that the rings move, some of them are tilted, and that Saturn has its own movements going on, and you’ll see why the planet’s rings continue to be so mysterious… and why it’s very difficult to say exactly how they’d look were you able to stand on Saturn and look up. You’d probably see both light and dark depending on where you were located and what was happening in the various orbits and gravitational forces.
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