Last Reviewed and Updated on June 26, 2022
People have been observing Saturn for centuries, it is after all one of the five planets that can be freely seen in the night sky. But who discovered the rings of Saturn, seeing they can’t be seen without a telescope? When were the rings first observed and did the person looking at them know what they are looking at?
The Rings of Saturn
The rings of Saturn are the most prominent ring system in our Solar System. The rings are composed of billions of particles, ranging from microscopic to small moon-like and they are mostly composed of ice.
Also read: facts about Saturn
Galileo Galilei was the first to observe them in 1610
Galileo Galilei was the first to lay his eyes on the rings of Saturn in 1610. He observed them through his telescope but he wasn’t exactly sure about what he was looking at. Galileo observed them on multiple occasions and noticed they changed over time. These changes depended on the alignment of rings in relation to the viewpoint from Earth.
He would describe them as Saturn’s ears and assumed the planet was made out of three parts.
Galileo Galilei was the first to discover the rings of Saturn but didn’t identify them as a system of rings.
Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke were close to identifying them
From about 1652 Christoper Wren observed Saturn and its rings and over the years he formed a hypothesis (De corpore Saturni). This hypothesis was close to suggesting the planet had a ring. Wren didn’t know if the ring was independent of the planet or if it was an extension of the planet.
His theory was never published as before he could publish it, Huygens presented his theory and Wren recognized it as a better one.
Robert Hooke was also one of the early observers of the rings. He noticed the rings cast shadows on Saturn and that the same goes the other way around. His finding was published in 1666.
Christiaan Huygens presented the ring theory in 1659
Christian Huygens improved upon the telescope and was able to observe Saturn and its rings in much greater detail than it was previously possible.
He was the first to propose a theory where the ring of Saturn surrounds the planet and is detached from the planet. He published his findings in 1659.
Giovanni Domenico Cassini determined that the ring was composed of multiple smaller rings in 1675
Huygens observed the rings but has seen them as a single ting. In 1675 Cassini determined the ring was composed of multiple rings and that there are gaps between these rings.
Other observers and scientists contributed to a greater understanding of rings and their compositions in the years that followed and more is still to be discovered even today.