“Saturn is astronomy to many people,” notes Reta Beebe, a mission scientist. “Through even a small telescope, it’s the most beautiful thing in the sky.”

Right now, to Brad Smith, the leader of Voyager’s The Rings: spoked,tilted, and eccentric carousel OF TRILLIONS of particles U from smaller than dust to larger than ca¬thedrals courses around Saturn as its ring system.

 sunset nature diversity

Seen farther out in the grayish part of the A ring are two bright, narrow ringlets close together. Between them is a faint ringlet that begins as white in the upper right-hand corner. When followed coun¬terclockwise, the ringlet turns dark, per¬haps because it is somewhat tilted out of the ring plane.

The density of rings can be roughly de¬termined by the play of light upon them. In this composite view (right, middle) the upper, or sunlit, half was taken as Voyager I approached. Regions thick with material reflect light and thus appear bright. Re¬gions void of material appear dark. The lower, or shaded, half of the image was tak¬en from beneath the rings. Regions that are bright both above and below indicate par¬ticles that reflect light, but also, because of low density, allow some light to pass through. Regions bright from above but dark below indicate density so great that no light can pass through. Regions dark both above and below are void of particles.


A composite image of two separate sec¬tions of the C ring shows one ringlet whose track doesn’t match up, thus establishing it as an eccentric (out-of¬round) ringlet that varies in width. It may be subject to perturbation by small, em¬bedded moonlets.

The complex structure and features of the rings have turned out to be anything but obvious. As mission scientist Jeffrey Cuzzipoints out: “Understanding the structure is going to take a lot more work. It’s not something that just clicks into place.”