Because of its detailed ring system, Saturn is known as the “jewel of the solar system.” Saturn’s rings stretch from edge-to-edge as wide as 175,000 miles, about the distance from the Earth to the Moon. Even though the other gas planets in our solar system have a series of rings, Saturn’s system of rings is the most prominent and well known. However, a new exoplanet–some 420 light years from Earth–has been discovered with a ring system that dwarfs any ring system ever before seen; it is a ring system over 200 times larger than the rings of Saturn.
According to Popular Science, scientists from Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands and the University of Rochester have found a planet with rings stretching out for 55 million miles. It is a relatively young planet named J1407b–orbiting the sun-like star, J1407. At first, scientists believed that they were looking at a brown dwarf star but now they are fairly certain that they’re looking at a planet that has a mass of about 40 Jupiters. It could be an object stuck somewhere in the middle of a planet and a gas giant that has failed to turn into a star.
When scientists first began to observe this planet they were actually watching an eclipse that lasted for weeks (or, about 56 days from tip to ring tip). This was causing light curves as the variants in the rings passed over the view of the star. A demonstration of how scientists first viewed this planet can be seen below.
You would be able to see it with the naked eye and take pictures of it with your camera phone.
Here’s an example of how it would look in the sky above the Louisiana Art and Science Museum & Irene W. Pennington Planetarium in Baton Rouge, LA.
This discovery will help scientists better understand the formation of planetary ring systems and natural satellites. It is believed that these rings will thin out over millions of years as the debris that comprises the rings will eventually clump together to form moons. Jupiter and Saturn may have had discs just like J1407b when our own solar system was forming; but, over time they also thinned out, creating the moons we know of today. Currently, scientists have viewed over 37 distinct bands of rings for J1407b and at least one clean gap in the system which could be the result in the formation of a moon.
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