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The Rings of Saturn: A Scale Model

based on 26 ratings
Author: Tricia Edgar

Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and it’s the second-largest planet in the solar system, behind Jupiter. Unlike Earth, Saturn is a gas giant that is mostly like hydrogen and helium instead of solid matter.

In 1610, during Galileo’s first observations of the night sky with a telescope, he was puzzled by Saturn’s surroundings. Many hundreds of years later, the space explorers Voyager 1 and 2 took pictures of Saturn’s rings. These closer images revealed that Saturn’s rings are very complex and have many small rings and spaces between them.

What are the rings, and why are they there? Inside Saturn’s rings are particles large and small. Some objects inside the rings are as large as buildings, while others could fit in the palm of your hand. Some are even too small to be seen with the naked eye. Most of these particles are made of water ice, dust, and rock. It’s likely that all of this debris came together when the pull of Saturn and its moons moved comets and meteorites into the area.

Much of the structure of the rings is likely held in place by the gravitational forces from Saturn’s moons, but scientists aren’t completely sure how the rings hold together. There are many mysteries connected to the rings, including the fact that the rings orbit at different speeds. 

Problem:  Create a scale model of Saturn and its rings.

If you're looking for a challenge and want to exercise some math skills, tackle the advanced procedure to determine how to make a scale model of Saturn's rings on your own! If you're just looking to build a really cool model, skip down to the second procedure.

Materials

  • Small Styrofoam ball (about 1.5 inches in diameter)
  • CD
  • Permanent markers
  • 3 colors of sequins or glitter
  • Glue
  • Dowel
  • Modeling clay
  • Paper
  • Protractor
  • Compass
  • Ruler

Advanced Procedure:

  1. The table below illustrates the distances of Saturn's brightest rings. You're going to make a scale model of Saturn's rings in the space that you have available on your CD. How can you use math to achieve accurate proportions of the Saturn's rings on your CD? Hint: Use the metric side of your ruler to take your measurements and use centimeters or millimeters as your units rather than inches.
Ring Distance (in miles)
D 4,600
C 10,000
B 15,000
Cassini Division    2,000
A 9,000
F 500
  1. Add a column to the table and write the proportional ring measurements you found.
  2. Use glue and different colors of glitter to define the separate rings.
  3. Cut the Styrofoam ball in half. You can paint the ball if you'd like--the planet is usually depicted in shades of orange, brown, and gray. Glue the halves on either side of the CD.
  4. Insert the dowel into the bottom of the planet, and use the modelling clay and protractor to position it at a 27 degree angle from vertical.

Rings of Saturn Diagram

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