Astronomers have been trying to figure out how big exactly is Saturn’s Phoebe ring for quite some time now.
They recently found the answer to that question and couldn’t believe it.
Apparently, Saturn’s Phoebe ring is actually even bigger than scientists previously believed.
The enormous ring is twice as thick than scientists assumed at first.
However, being of gargantuan size doesn’t necessarily mean that Saturn’s Phoebe ring is visible to the naked eye, because it isn’t.
The researchers who managed to determine the approximate size of Saturn’s Phoebe ring published their findings in the journal Nature.
In their study, the astronomers describe this gigantic ring, saying that it’s mostly made of very small particles.
The researchers hope the recent findings will help them better understand how Saturn’s ring system evolved.
Douglas Hamilton, scientist at the University of Maryland, College Park and the lead author of the study, explained that he knew that Saturn is surrounded by a huge invisible ring.
According to Hamilton, Saturn’s Phoebe ring is almost 20 times bigger than the second largest ring around Saturn, which means it’s absolutely gigantic.
Saturn has many rings that encircle it, forming a striped disc for which the planet is well known.
In 2009, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, equipped with infrared sensors, identified a new ring so big that Saturn and its main rings appeared as a tiny dot in the middle of it.
Saturn’s Phoebe ring is difficult to be seen in visible light, but can be identified clearly using infrared wavelengths.
According to the scientists, with infrared light, the gigantic ring appears as a ghostly halo.
Hamilton and his team wanted to look for the giant invisible ring mainly because they had noticed a strange coloring on one of Saturn’s moons Iapetus.
They were intrigued by the fact that one side of the moon was pale, while the other was darker and appeared as if it was covered with soot.
At first, the scientists believed that invisible distant particles were interacting with Iapetus, thus darkening one of its sides.
This led to the theory that the Saturn’s Phoebe ring was 4.8 million to 7.76 million miles big.
But now, using NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer telescope, the scientists were able to determine that the ring is even bigger than what they first assumed.
According to their measurements, the ring stretches out from 3.75 million to 10.1 million miles.
Image Source: librarising