What If Earth Had a Ring? This Is What Will Happen!

When you study physics at school, you must have learned about the solar system. So, when you hear the word ringed planet, what comes to mind is definitely the 6th planet in the solar system, namely Saturn.

When looking at the picture, the color combination of the planets discovered by Galileo Galilei in 1610 and the rings does look beautiful. Maybe, you are wondering what if Earth also has rings like Saturn? If that’s your question, check out the discussion below!

1. Did you know that the Earth also (probably) used to have rings?

illustration of Theia hitting the unfinished Earth (wikimedia.org)

Are you surprised? There is a hypothesis that in ancient times, the Earth and the Moon were one. It lasted until 4.5 billion years ago. A proto-planet the size of Mars crashed into Earth, which was just about ready. The proto-planet is named Theia (Aunt).

Collision Theia scatter rocks on Earth into space. However, these rocks circled the Earth forming a ring like what we see today on the planet Saturn. Over time, these rocks coalesced and formed the Moon. In Greek mythology, Theia is the mother of Selene (Σελήνη), the goddess of the Moon.

2. Estimate the limit of Roche to make a ring on Earth

What If Earth Had a Ring?  This Is What Will Happen!Earth’s rings survive if they stay within range of the Roche boundary (pinterest.com)

Then, why the ring from Theia not survive? The key is “Roche Limit”. Invented by the French scientist, douard Roche, in 1848, the Roche limit calculates the distance that a celestial body must cover to maintain its existence despite the tidal forces of the parent celestial body.

If it is still within the Roche limit range, the celestial body will be crushed by Earth’s gravity and surround it as a ring. However, if it goes outside the Roche boundary, the celestial matter will merge into a new celestial object. According to the large collision hypothesis, the collision Theia out of Roche’s limits so the Moon appears.

3. If anything, Earth’s rings would not be like Saturn’s

What If Earth Had a Ring?  This Is What Will Happen!illustration of a ringed Earth (science.howstuffworks.com)

Located quite far from the Sun, Saturn’s rings are made up of mineral rock and ice. What about Earth’s rings? Unfortunately, it only consists of rocks. As the 3rd planet from the Sun, the radiation and heat of the Sun is sure to make the ice evaporate.

So, will Earth’s rings look dark? Certainly not! The moon, which is dominated by rocks and is gray in color, still reflects the sun’s light. When in the full phase, the Moon looks very bright because it reflects light with more intensity and is also closer to Earth.

Now, imagine a ring that follows the Roche boundary and is closer than the Moon. It is estimated that Earth’s rings will reflect 1,300 watts of sunlight per square meter to Earth.

4. How many rings can Earth have?

What If Earth Had a Ring?  This Is What Will Happen!illustration of stone rings on unfinished planet Earth (pinterest.com)

Interesting fact, Saturn has seven-layered rings. Could Earth have a ring that thick? If the Earth had rings, its circumference would have stretched 5,900 kilometers and had a thickness of up to 9.5 meters.

As to whether Earth’s ring layers can be as thick as Saturn’s, it depends on whether Earth has a “shepherd moon,” small natural satellites that pause between ring layers and keep particles in the rings.

For example, Saturn’s rings have several shepherd moons like Prometheus, Daphnis, Pan, Janus, and Epimetheus. If the Earth’s ring has a shepherd moon, then from the Earth’s surface it will look like a bright spot around the edge of the ring.

Unfortunately, with the Moon currently accompanying Earth, it is highly unlikely that Earth will have rings. This is because the Moon also has a gravitational force. Coupled with Earth, there will be tidal forces that disrupt the rings, causing the Earth to have no rings.

5. Will the aerospace industry be okay?

What If Earth Had a Ring?  This Is What Will Happen!illustration of boarding an airplane (pexels.com/Tim Gouw)

If the Earth has a ring, then the position of the Earth closest to the ring is a layer of the atmosphere called the thermosphere. The thermosphere reaches a height of 1,000 kilometers from the Earth’s surface. What about commercial aircraft?

Fortunately, commercial aircraft activities usually circulate within 11 kilometers of the Earth’s surface, so there is no need to be afraid of crashing into the Earth’s rings. However, humans should be careful because if the ring material is too close to Earth, then gravity will pull the material into a meteorite!

What If Earth Had a Ring?  This Is What Will Happen!International Space Station (ISS)/ (Twitter/NASA)

Then, what about rockets or space stations if there is an Earth ring? Supposedly, a satellite, spacecraft, or space station only reaches below the Earth’s rings. For example, the International Space Station (ISS) orbits 400 km above Earth.

However, there are also probes that orbit outside the ring. For example, geostationary satellites typically orbit nearly 36,000 km above the Earth’s surface or far from the Earth’s rings. However, due to the presence of the Earth’s ring, the performance of geostationary satellites can be disrupted.

6. Earth’s rings can hinder the development of astronomy on Earth

What If Earth Had a Ring?  This Is What Will Happen!illustration of telescope and sky (pexels.com/Lucas Pezeta)

Unfortunately, the existence of the Earth’s rings can interfere with the development of the field of astronomy on Earth. This is because the Earth’s rings block the view of the sky at night.

Because the night sky is blocked by the brightness of the Earth’s rings, it is difficult for the people of Earth to know things about outer space such as the existence of other planets and galaxies, to the existence of other galaxies and the vastness of the universe. Not to mention, the unknown ring structure of the Earth also hinders space exploration.

7. Problems for nocturnal species

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What If Earth Had a Ring?  This Is What Will Happen!illustration of nocturnal animals hunting at night (balisafarimarinepark.com)

The Earth’s rings can be seen from all corners of the Earth, day and night. Sunlight emitted by Earth’s rings at night can be a problem for nocturnal animals.

The eyes of nocturnal species are specifically used to see through darkness. The significant increase in luminosity can make their eyesight fall apart.

Also read: 15 Beautiful Pictures of Saturn from the Cassini-Huygens

8. What about the seasons on Earth?

What If Earth Had a Ring?  This Is What Will Happen!illustration of Earth’s rings in Earth’s sky (whatifshow.com)

In fact, we should also be grateful that the Earth remains as it is. If Earth had rings, its shadow could ruin Earth’s weather order! One of the things that are affected is changes in the intensity of sunlight which can make plants unable to photosynthesize and threaten Earth’s oxygen supply.

Then, during winter in the Northern Hemisphere and summer in the Southern Hemisphere, Earth’s ring shadow will cause colder temperatures and extreme heat! So cold and hot, most likely, the Earth becomes uninhabitable.

However, this temperature change also depends on the thickness and composition of the Earth’s rings. If the Earth’s rings are more rock than ice, the reflection of light will be less.

9. Navigating the past becomes easier

What If Earth Had a Ring?  This Is What Will Happen!illustration of a compass as a navigational instrument (unsplash.com/Jordan Madrid)

If the Earth was created with rings, then navigation in ancient times would be easier to understand. This is very helpful, especially for sailors in ancient times who had difficulty determining the location only from an astronomical point of view. Therefore, the rings in Earth’s sky can help navigation in many ways!

The movement of the shepherd moon’s revolution in the Earth’s ring can be used as a benchmark. In addition, the way Earth’s shadow falls on the ring can also serve as a giant timepiece. In other words, the existence of the Earth’s ring will be very useful in the field of navigation.

What If Earth Had a Ring?  This Is What Will Happen!illustration of planet Earth with rings (planetary.org)

Indeed, predicting rings on Earth sounds like sheer science fiction. However, instead of accusing the Moon landings of being a hoax, thinking about things like this is much more beneficial and who knows there are risks and benefits if the Earth has rings like Saturn.

It doesn’t take long, though, as astronomy artist and science fiction writer Ron Miller pours his imagination into thinking what Earth would look like if it had rings. Here is a picture of Ron!

10. At dawn, you can see some of the rings of the Earth burning brightly in the sky of the US capital, Washington DC

What If Earth Had a Ring?  This Is What Will Happen!Earth’s rings as seen from Washington DC, USA (planetary.org)

11. From Guatemala, just 14 degrees above the equator, the Earth’s rings can be seen stretching, across the horizon. The light reflected off the Earth’s rings makes the Moon visible!

What If Earth Had a Ring?  This Is What Will Happen!Earth’s rings visible in the Guatemalan sky (planetary.org)

12. From Quito, Ecuador, Earth’s rings look straight up above the equator!

What If Earth Had a Ring?  This Is What Will Happen!Earth’s rings look straight at Ecuador’s equator (planetary.org)

13. When Earth reaches the equinox stage (when the Sun aligns with Earth’s equator) in March and September, Earth’s rings look the same as they did in Quito, Ecuador!

What If Earth Had a Ring?  This Is What Will Happen!Earth’s ring is visible in the sky at the equinox (planetary.org)

14. Seen from Northern Nevada, USA, Earth’s rings are seen cut almost in half in the middle of the sky at the equinox

What If Earth Had a Ring?  This Is What Will Happen!Earth’s ring visible at the equinox (cnet.com)

15. Seen from Nome, Alaska, the Earth’s rings are visible on the horizon, half rising and half setting. This ring exists day and night in the same place every day!

What If Earth Had a Ring?  This Is What Will Happen!Earth’s rings seen from Nome, Alaska (cnet.com)

16. At midnight in the Tropic of Capricorn, Earth’s rings are visible at 23° south latitude. Earth’s shadow looks oval in the center of the ring!

What If Earth Had a Ring?  This Is What Will Happen!Earth’s rings seen from the Tropic of Cancer (planetary.org)

How? Isn’t it beautiful? Those are the things that would happen if Earth had rings like Saturn. Eh, did you know that apart from Saturn, the planets Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune also actually have pseudo rings?! The more you know.

For some scientists, the Earth used to be ringed, really. However, the ring departed and formed the Moon that adorned the night sky. Yes, maybe it’s the will of the Almighty. Let’s be grateful for the shape of the Earth today and keep it livable!

Also read: Believe it or not, these are 15 of the strangest but real galaxies

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