After reading this excellent but difficult answer, https://astronomy.stackexchange.com/a/18407/13071

I've been thinking how difficult it is to get a sense of the distance between and the size of typical items of dust, pebbles, rocks and/or anything else in Saturn's rings.

In short, have any photographs been taken by spacecraft, more or less "in" the rings, close enough to actually see individual dust, pebbles and/or rocks?

(As I understand it, the rings are on the order of 10m thick. So I'm asking, have any photos been taken from that order of distance from the rings? What's simply the closest viewpoint ever taken?)

Failing that, is there perhaps an artist's rendition somewhere of "what you'd see from 100m above the rings looking straight down at them?" What would be in that frustrum - nothing? Lots of fist-size rocks you could see? Or?

It's completely unclear to me if each (say) pebble-size piece is inches apart, meters apart, or for all I know 100s of km apart?


1 Answer 1


The rings are about 3% solid in the densest parts, but this translates to a separation between 30cm particles of about 1metre.

There are no images Because approaching the dense part of the rings would be extremely difficult. A probe would be travelling at orbital speeds, and even a small percentage difference in speed would translate to a large absolute difference. As the probe would also be in orbit, it would be extremely difficult to find an orbit that doesn't collide catastrophically with ring particles.

Cassini did travel through one of the gaps in the ring system during Saturn orbital insertion. It survived 100000 dust impacts in 5 minutes.

Nature has some artist's impressions of the ring particlesenter image description here.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Fantastic answer, thanks! From one of the articles ... "but it means the typical separation between particles is only a little over three times their average diameter". Good one. $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ The artist's impressions are behind a pay wall. $\endgroup$
    – JBentley
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 22:02
  • $\begingroup$ I think nature have just removed them, and we are being redirected. $\endgroup$
    – James K
    Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 7:29
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The image in the Nature article is visible without paying if you click on the "Figures" link. Here's a direct link to the image as well. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 18, 2022 at 16:38

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