Saturn is probably best known for the system of planetary rings that makes it visually unique. The rings extend from 6,630 km to 120,700 km above Saturn's equator, average approximately 20 meters in thickness and are composed of 93% water ice with traces of tholin impurities and 7% amorphous carbon. The particles that make up the rings range in size from specks of dust up to 10 m. While the other gas giants also have ring systems, Saturn's is the largest and most visible. There are two main hypotheses regarding the origin of the rings. One hypothesis is that the rings are remnants of a destroyed moon of Saturn. The second hypothesis is that the rings are left over from the original nebular material from which Saturn formed. Some ice in the central rings comes from the moon Enceladus's ice volcanoes. In the past, astronomers believed the rings formed alongside the planet when it formed billions of years ago. Instead, the age of these planetary rings is probably some hundreds of millions of years.
Beyond the main rings at a distance of 12 million km from the planet is the sparse Phoebe ring, which is tilted at an angle of 27° to the other rings and, like Phoebe, orbits in retrograde fashion. Some of the moons of Saturn, including Pan and Prometheus, act as shepherd moons to confine the rings and prevent them from spreading out. Pan and Atlas cause weak, linear density waves in Saturn's rings that have yielded more reliable calculations of their masses.
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