Saturn's E Ring in Ultraviolet Light

Saturn's E Ring in Ultraviolet Light

Download Options

Fast Facts
News release ID: STScI-1995-31
Release Date: Aug 11, 1995
Image Use: Copyright
About this image

Visible from Earth only at times of ring plane crossing, Saturn's tenuous E Ring was discovered during the 1966 crossings and imaged again in 1980. From these observations, its color is known to be distinctively blue. The E Ring was captured in ultraviolet light for the first time in this image taken with HST's Wide Field and Planetary Camera on 9 August 1995. Five individual images taken with a broadband 3000 A filter were combined, amounting to a total exposure time of 2200 sec. Shorter exposure images were also obtained with blue, red and infrared filters in order to characterize the ring's color.

The peak brightness of the E Ring occurs at 3.9 Saturn radii (235,000 km), coinciding with the orbit of Enceladus. In the HST images it can be traced out to a maximum distance of approximately 8 Rs (480,000 km). The vertical thickness of the ring, on the other hand, is smallest at Enceladus' orbit, with the ring puffing up noticeably at larger distances to 15,000 km or more thick.

Also visible in this image, between the E Ring and the overexposed outermost part of the main rings near the lower edge of the frame, is the tenuous, thin, 6000 km-wide G Ring at 2.8 Rs (170,000 km). This is among the first earth-based observations of the G Ring, which was discovered by the Pioneer 11 spacecraft in 1979. Noticeably thinner than the E Ring and more neutral in color, the G Ring is thought to be composed of larger, macroscopic particles, and to pose a significant hazard to spacecraft.

The faint diagonal band in the lower right part of the image is due to diffracted light from the heavily-overexposed planet.

Annotated Observations, Planetary Rings, Planets, Saturn, Solar System


Phil Nicholson (Cornell University), Mark Showalter (NASA-Ames/Stanford) and NASA