Judy SchmidtJan 05, 2017

Saturn's Ring Particles

These things always have a way of looking vaguely wrong. We don't know what Saturn's rings look like up close, though they are simple to describe. This section is comprised of meter-sized blocks of pure water ice. We do know what water ice looks like, but how does it go from block of ice to the intricate ring system of Saturn? 

Perhaps one day we will find out, but for now all we have is art. I doubt mine will be any closer to the truth. If we do ever get pictures, we can compare all the depictions and see who was closest.

Saturn ring particles
Saturn ring particles This artist's impression shows what the particles making up the intricate rings of Saturn may look like up close. The image was created using a combination of digital painting and a particle system in Blender to create a basic image.Image: Judy Schmidt

Future travelers should avoid passing too close to the rings. There are many depictions of the asteroid belt in science fiction movies looking something like this. In reality, the asteroid belt is almost entirely empty space which makes it a lot safer than Saturn's rings.

There is a chance that the Cassini spacecraft could strike one of these particles during the final phase of its mission, but the scientists are very good at their jobs and made sure to minimize the risk so that all continues as planned. It's certainly not traveling anywhere near the larger pieces, but even a very tiny one could really do some damage. Cassini's mission will end this September, and a lot of people will cry. I might be one of them.

I used a particle system in Blender to create a basic image and then did some digital painting to make it look a little less like a 3D render.

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