Jupiter

Jupiter Has Rings Too

Everyone knows which planets have rings: it's Saturn, Neptune, and Uranus. But there's one more you may not be aware of. Jupiter has rings too, although they're so faint, it took a spacecraft to find them.

A Dusty Halo

Until 1979, astronomers had no idea that wispy rings of dust and rock particles encircled our solar system's largest gas giant. That's because unlike the rings of Saturn, which are made of relatively large pieces of ice that reflect sunlight, Jupiter's rings are made of miniscule particles of rock and dust — some as small as cigarette-smoke particles — which makes them dark and nearly impossible to see from Earth.

Dr. Tobias Owen, one of the researchers credited with discovering the rings, explains more in the video below.

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How Many Are There?

The upper image shows the main ring in back-scattered light as seen by the New Horizons spacecraft. The lower image shows the main ring in forward-scattered light demonstrating its lack of any structure except the Metis notch.

Though future spacecraft could learn much more about the rings, we know there are at least four.

  • The main ring, which encompasses the orbits of Adrastea and Metis, two small Jovian moons that are probably the source of the ring's dust
  • The halo ring, which merges gradually into the main ring on one side and extends halfway toward Jupiter's cloud surface on the other.
  • Two "gossamer rings," which are the faintest of the group and named for the moons from whence they came, Amalthea and Thebe.

Explore every detail of our solar system with the beautiful imagery of Smithsonian's "The Planets" by Robert Dinwiddie. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Ashley Hamer June 10, 2017

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