Paper Plate Education
Activity: Saturn's Rings
The following text is excerpted from GLPA Proceedings, 1992, p. 84-85. Used with permission:
Every 14 years Saturn's rings seem to disappear!
This was an embarrassment to Galileo as he observed the rings in his
telescope, made notes...and months later tried to share his observation with
another scientist...but they weren't there!
A year or so later, it was confirmed as they seemed to return.
Fold a paper plate in half. Fold
into quarters, then unfold to the half. Starting
about 1/2 inch from the edge, cut parallel to the perimeter stopping about 1/4
inch from the fold line making it into quarters.
Unfold the plate and fold the outer ring until it stands out at right
angles to the plates. Mark one end of the first fold line as north and the other
end as south. The plate represents
the disk of Saturn with the rings going around it.
Pretend your head is the sun and hold Saturn out at arms length making it
go around the sun. Saturn's axis is
tilted 26 degrees from the plane of its orbit (compared to earth at 23 and 1/2
degrees...about the same). Keep the
axis of Saturn pointed the same direction (imagine a distant star) and you will
see the north side of the rings, then the edge of the rings, then the south
side, the edge, and the north side again. It
takes Saturn 29 years to orbit the sun. Therefore we see the rings on edge every 14 years (1995
recently). The rings are so thin
they seem to disappear...just as a flat paper plate does when seen edge on!
Did the student make the model correctly? Does the student hold the axis toward a distant star (rather
than rotate it toward the sun as it moves around its orbit)?
Does the student keep it tilted the same?
Can the student describe what happens?
What is similar about Saturn and its rings and Earth and its seasons?
[Tilt] What is different? [Time...14 earth years for one summer on Saturn!]
Contributed by Wayne James.
Copyright ©2012 Chuck Bueter. All rights reserved.