Of course, it's not the hexagon that earned Saturn a place on Chuckie Finster's T-shirt. The gas giant owes its popularity to the ring system encircling it.
Planetary rings aren't rare per se: Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune have them as well. Yet in terms of sheer scale, the network around Saturn is totally unrivaled.
Most of the primary rings come with letter names. The closest one to the home planet is called the "D" Ring, which has an inner radius of about 66,900 kilometers (41,569 miles). It's surrounded by the C, B, A, F, G and E Rings — in that order. By the way, Saturn's rings aren't arranged alphabetically because this naming system reflects the dates of their discovery. "A," "B" and "C" were sighted before the rest.
When measured from its outside edge, the "E" ring showcases an impressive 480,000-kilometer (298,258-mile) radius. Or at least, that looks impressive until you get to know the big bad Phoebe Ring we mentioned earlier. First spotted in 2009, this one was named after a Saturnian moon.
Untold trillions of ice, rock and dust particles make up these rings. Some bits are the size of a sugar grain; others could probably dwarf your house. In any case, the ring material is stretched remarkably thin. Saturnian rings range from 1.9 miles (3 kilometers) to just 32 feet (10 meters).
So proportionately, the gas giant's iconic rings are thinner than a typical sheet of writing paper, noted astronomer Phil Plait.
Whereas Saturn itself is probably around 4.5 billion years old, the age of its rings isn't as clear. Some scientists think they were formed 10 million to 100 million years ago, when an icy comet — or some ice-covered moons — came too close to the planet. The visitor(s) met a grisly end, getting ripped to pieces by Saturn's gravity. As those fragments collided, they grew smaller and multiplied, giving rise to the skinny system we all know today.
On the other hand, a 2019 paper argued the rings might've originated at an early stage in the history of our solar system. We'll have to see how the debate unfolds as new evidence arises.