The Inclination of Saturn’s Rings

As Saturn cycles through its 29 1/2 year orbit about the Sun, we on Earth will alternatively see the top (north face) of Saturn’s rings for roughly half of its orbit, and the bottom half (south face) of Saturn’s rings for the other half. This occurs as a result of how the rings are inclined with respect to the plane of Saturn’s orbit. As the view transitions between upper and lower halves of the rings, our view will be edge on, and the rings will seem to have temporarily vanished. The last edge-on view was in 2009, at which time our current view of the north face of the rings began opening up. Even before Saturn’s rings fully open in 2017, our present view is pretty spectacular.

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