WISE satellite measures girth of Saturn’s widest ring

Saturn ring illustration

Saturn’s largest and faintest ring, shown glowing with infrared light in an artist’s illustration, extends just over 16 million kilometers from the planet.

JPL-Caltech/NASA, Keck

Saturn’s rings reach farther than the eye can see — and astronomers now know just how far that is. The outermost band of dust, best seen in infrared light, is at least 270 times as wide as the giant planet, researchers report in the June 11 Nature.

The nearly invisible belt, first detected in 2009, appears to be fed by debris chipped off the tiny moon Phoebe. Researchers weren’t able to measure the full extent of the dark ring then. More recent images from the infrared WISE satellite, however, let planetary scientist Douglas Hamilton, of the University of Maryland in College Park, and colleagues get a better look.

headshot of Associate News Editor Christopher Crockett

Christopher Crockett is an Associate News Editor. He was formerly the astronomy writer from 2014 to 2017, and he has a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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