Rae PaolettaJun 29, 2021

The best pictures of Saturn’s rings

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The idea of Saturn without rings feels somehow incomplete. It’s like imagining tides without the Moon or Saturday without Sunday. But strange as it sounds, at some point, Saturn was just another ringless planet pirouetting through the cosmos alone; another marble among many in a young solar system.

It’s hard to say how or when Saturn’s rings came to be. Estimates say they may have formed anywhere from 10 million to 100 million years ago, possibly from Saturn’s gravity shredding comets, asteroids and even moons. The shrapnel from this destruction continued to collide, creating rings of ice, rock and dust. How such extraordinary, indiscriminate beauty emerged from abject chaos is a celestial mystery we may never fully understand.

That shouldn’t stop us from trying, though. The Saturn system has had a handful of visitors over the years including Pioneer 11, both Voyager missions, and most recently, Cassini-Huygens. In 2026, NASA will launch Dragonfly, a rotorcraft that will explore Saturn’s mysterious moon Titan. Every mission gives us more insight into the planet’s iconic bands — and new images to marvel at.

A ring system is a fleeting beauty, and Saturn’s is no different. Some researchers posit the planet’s gravity is pulling the rings inward, causing them to become a dusty “ring rain” in Saturn’s atmosphere. Calculations suggest Saturn’s rings could be gone in just 100 million years.

It’s sad to think of a ringless Saturn, even if it’s eons away. The best thing we can do is cherish the rings now, while they’re still around.

Here are our favorite pictures of Saturn’s spectacular rings:

Saturn's rings, Mimas, Pan, and Prometheus
Saturn's rings, Mimas, Pan, and Prometheus Saturn's rings shouldn't get to steal all the spotlight. Here, the planet's moons Mimas, Pan, and Prometheus make a cameo — though Mimas is the easiest to see. This mosaic was made from Cassini images taken on October 3, 2007.Image: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SSI / color mosaic by Gordan Ugarkovic
Enceladus and the rings
Enceladus and the rings Looks like a painting in a modern art museum, but it's real. Cassini captured this view of Enceladus with Saturn's rings on February 17, 2005.Image: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SSI
Daphnis in the Keeler Gap
Daphnis in the Keeler Gap The tiny shepherd moon Daphnis looks sandwiched between Saturn's rings in this incredible shot taken by Cassini. Daphnis is located in a space in Saturn's A ring called the Keeler Gap.Image: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SSI / Ian Regan
Saturn's rings and shadows
Saturn's rings and shadow play Cassini took this image of Saturn's rings on November 7, 2004. Mimas is hiding in the background — it must've been feeling camera-shy that day.Image: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SSI
Saturn with Tethys and Mimas' shadow
Saturn, Tethys and (sort of) Mimas Everything's always trying to photobomb Saturn, which makes for great pictures. Here, Saturn's moon Tethys can be seen below the rings, as well as a shadow from Mimas.Image: NASA / JPL / SSI / Alson Wong
Pan in the Encke gap
Pan in the Encke gap Saturn's dumpling moon Pan is a work of art. That's why it's framed by the rings of Encke Gap, a space in Saturn's A ring.Image: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SSI / Ian Regan
Saturn and its rings from Voyager 1
Saturn and its rings from Voyager 1 Voyager 1 took this spectacular shot of Saturn and its rings on November 16, 1980.Image: NASA / JPL
Saturn and its moons at opposition
Saturn and its moons at opposition Saturn has 53 confirmed moons and another 29 moons awaiting confirmation and naming. In this composite image from Hubble, six moons can be seen — (from left to right) Dione, Enceladus, Tethys, Janus, Epimetheus and Mimas.Image: NASA / ESA / A. Simon (GSFC) and the OPAL Team / J. DePasquale (STScI)
In Saturn's Shadow (2006)
In Saturn's Shadow (2006) This breathtaking panorama, made up of 165 images taken by Cassini, gives some insight into the sheer enormity of Saturn and its ring system.Image: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SSI
Endless rings of ribbon
Endless rings of ribbon Saturn's rings look like ribbon candy in this stunning mosaic, composed of images taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on April 25, 2007.Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Moonlit rings
Moonlit rings Saturn's moon Titan brings some dramatic lighting to this image, taken by Cassini on June 10, 2006. Saturn's rings stretch across the photo, but Enceladus is hiding in there, too.Image: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
"The Day the Earth Smiled"
"The Day the Earth Smiled" It's hard not to get emotional looking at this picture, taken by Cassini on July 19, 2013. It's a rare shot where Earth, our Moon, and Saturn's rings are all together in the same picture.Image: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SSI

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