At the moment, no one is quite sure. Since their discovery by astronomer Galileo Galilei over 400 years ago in 1610, scientists have been trying to work out exactly how these magnificent rings came to be, the most extensive ring system that we know of around any planet. The rings are made up of ice and rock with billions of pieces ranging in size from a grain of sand to a house. The rings are hundreds of thousands of kilometres wide, but only a few tens to hundreds of metres thick. Exactly how they formed, though, remains somewhat of a mystery to scientists and astronomers.
One leading theory is that the rings are the remnants of one or several moons that once orbited Saturn. It is possible that a moon could have been torn apart by a combination of Saturn’s gravity and the influence of other moons, causing its debris to be scattered around the planet in a ring. The rings may also have formed, or perhaps been added to, by passing comets and asteroids being pulled in by Saturn’s enormous gravity and, in turn, also being broken apart into many smaller fragments, entering an orbit around Saturn that flattened over vast periods of time into the thin but incredibly wide rings we see today.
Image Credit: NASA