Saturn's Rings


In this activity, split into four approximately 40-minute sessions, we have arrived at Saturn in our imaginary journey with the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft! By now, students’ curiosity about Saturn may be piqued and they might be eager to learn more about Saturn and its special features, including its rings and moons. Youth will:

  • Take a firmer grasp on their role as scientists and engineers as they are introduced to the value of research into past discoveries.
  • Research four mini-books about Saturn, pull out interesting information to share and look for answers to a matching game they will play.
  • Share their findings and work in teams to win the game.
  • Make posters to share the most important findings from the books and record their new knowledge on the “Notice/Know/Wonder” charts they created in an earlier activity.
  • Reinforce new knowledge by observing, measuring and drawing scale models of Saturn and its moon Titan, compared with Earth and its Moon.
  • Activity Goals: Participants should begin to visualize themselves working as scientists and engineers as they learn the importance of claims supported by evidence; read and share for specific, authentic purposes; extend and enhance their understanding and knowledge about Saturn and communicate it by summarizing, journaling, sharing, and drawing models; demonstrate their knowledge with materials based on scientific claims that have been supported by evidence.

Note: This activity is part of the Jewel of the Solar System activity guide, which includes:

  1. What Do I See When I Picture Saturn?
  2. Where Are We in the Solar System?
  3. Discovering Saturn: The Real "Lord of the Rings" (current activity)
  4. Saturn's Fascinating Features
  5. My Spacecraft to Saturn
  6. All About Titan and Huygens Probe
  7. Drop Zone! Design and Test a Probe
  8. Celebrating Saturn and Cassini



Space Needed

  • Room with tables and chairs

Sessions 1 and 2

  • Make copies of the Saturn/Cassini Match Game Question Cards in one color, and use a different color for the Saturn/Cassini Match Game Answer Cards.

  • Lay out copies of the match game for each team to view. (Don't pre-cut them; students will cut them during Session 2.)

For Session 4

  • Hang up the “Notice/Know/Wonder” charts around the room.

Equity/Leveling the Playing Field

  • Making posters of Saturn requires lots of different skills. Some students will be more artistic, some focused on accuracy and science content, some on neatness or the presentation. Stress that this is a team endeavor and that everyone’s talents, interests and skills are required to make the best poster.

  • Point out to the students that the teams from NASA who worked on (and continue to work on) the Cassini-Huygens mission consist of many people with a variety of talents and skills.

  • Remind students that everyone on the team should participate because everyone’s ideas are important.

Leader Tips

  • Find some prize or privilege that a team can have for winning the match game. For example, the winning team’s poster can be saved and used as part of the culminating and assessment event in Part 8 – Celebrating Saturn and Cassini.

  • If you have students for whom English is a second language, you may want to have them partner-read, or you may want to pull a small group and read the books aloud to them.

  • If the majority of your students are reading below the level of the mini-books, you may prefer instead to do Part 4 – Saturn’s Fascinating Features. They can still learn information about Saturn and its moons, as well as practice listening and writing brief sentences.

  • Try providing, for each student, a fruit of the appropriate size for Saturn, Titan, Earth and Earth’s Moon — turning an edible model into a snack after the students have completed their measurements and drawing.


Before scientists for the Cassini-Huygens mission proposed to go to Saturn, they first researched to see what questions their colleagues had already asked and answered.

Once the scientists felt they had gathered all the information they could, they began to add their own questions to form the purpose of the Cassini-Huygens mission.

As the mission proceeded and even after it has ended, scientists carefully analyze the data from the spacecraft and make claims supported by evidence they found. They share these discoveries so that other scientists and the public can learn from them. The more we learn, the more new questions we come up with!

The ability to research, discuss and present in a clear and engaging way is an important skill for all those on a solar system mission team.


  • Ammonia: A pungent, colorless gas compounded of nitrogen and hydrogen
  • Conduct: To act as a medium for conveying or transmitting
  • Core: The central part of a celestial body (as Earth or the Sun) usually having different physical properties from the surrounding parts
  • Gravitational: Having the force of attraction between physical bodies proportional to their masses
  • Hydrogen: The simplest and lightest element, found in abundance in the Sun and planetary atmospheres
  • Helium: The next heavier element than hydrogen; a colorless, odorless, tasteless, inert gas
  • Mass: The measure of the amount of material
  • Metallic: Having properties of or behaving like a metal
  • Methane: A colorless, odorless compound of carbon and hydrogen
  • Microwaves: Waves (wavelength from 1 millimeter to 30 centimeters) of electromagnetic energy (the light our eyes see is a shorter waveform of electromagnetic energy)
  • Moon: Any natural planetary satellite; the Earth’s natural satellite, our Moon, orbits the Earth at a mean distance of 238,857 miles (384,393 kilometers). Some planets, including Saturn, have multiple moons.
  • System: A combination of things or parts that forms an organized set. Earth is part of the solar system; Saturn and its moons form the Saturnian system.
  • Transmit: To communicate information by signal, wire, radio, microwave, or television waves. Cassini transmits information to Earth.


Session 1 – Reading and Group Sharing (about 40 minutes)

  1. Prepare your students for their scientific “reading investigation” with the following conversation guide:
  2. When scientists are about to start an investigation with their own questions, they often look up what other scientists have already discovered. Reviewing what is already known often causes scientists to come up with even more questions. As the Cassini-Huygens scientists have been investigating Saturn, they have learned many new things — and they continue to want to learn more as they uncover more details.

    In an earlier activity, you have already begun to think and act as scientists in this way by observing (“What I Notice” chart) and questioning (“What I Wonder” chart). However, noticing and observing something is only a step towards “knowing” something. Knowing, in the science community, is a matter of something that can be tested and then “claimed” because it is supported by evidence. When you stood before a picture, you could “claim” something about the picture, based on what you noticed. But until you can test that claim, or research a reliable source to find that it is true, you have no evidence that your claim is true. There is an important difference between “claims” and claims supported by “evidence.”

    In this session, you will continue as “scientists” to investigate what has been learned so far about Saturn. Each of you will become a “science expert” in one area of Saturn, by working with one of the four mini-books in the series “Saturn, the Real Lord of the Rings.” What you will see in the mini-books are examples of things that scientists noticed or wondered about — and then tested so they could make claims supported by evidence.

    Scientists often prepare presentations to share what they have learned with other scientists. You are going to need to work together to share information about Saturn. We will form teams, and each member of a team will be responsible for sharing what they learn with the rest of the team.

  3. Have students “count-off” to form teams of 4. Have each team work at a separate table.

  4. Have the students retrieve their Saturn Discovery Logs. Tell them they will be taking notes in these logs. Tell them they will later share those notes with each other, and in the next session, use them to play a game.

  5. Hand out 4 different mini-books to each team and assign students to each book. (Note: If students’ reading level does not match the mini-books, then you as the leader can read aloud to the whole group, asking each student to “take a specialty” and take notes on their choice of “specialty book” from the four books.)

  6. Hand out an uncut copy of the Saturn/Cassini Match Game Question Cards for each team.

  7. Tell them that they should write down a few words to describe anything they read that interests them, that they think is important or worth knowing about Saturn, and look for the answers to the questions on the Saturn/Cassini Match Game Question Cards, which they will use in the next session. Suggest some ideas for what might be “most important” about Saturn, such as “Saturn is very big,” “Saturn is far away and very cold,” “Saturn is beautiful,” “Saturn has the most complicated rings of all the planets,” and some questions from the Saturn/Cassini Match Game Question Cards.

  8. Allow about 20 minutes for students to read their mini-books and take notes.

  9. Explain to the students that, to help them report what they learned to the other students in their team, they should identify and write down the five or so most important or interesting facts about Saturn from their notes.

  10. Have each student present the main points about Saturn from their mini-books with the rest of their team.

  11. Collect the mini-books.

Session 2 – The Saturn/Cassini Match Game (about 40 minutes)

  1. In this session, students are going to use the notes they took in their Saturn Discovery Logs to help their team win the Saturn/Cassini Match Game, by being the first team to match all questions with the correct answer.

  2. Return the Saturn Discovery Logs to the students.

  3. Give each team a large piece of chart paper, a marker pen, and glue sticks or clear tape in a dispenser.

  4. Ask the teams to draw lines to divide their chart paper into four equal sections, and label each section as follows: Saturn, Saturn’s Rings, Saturn’s Layers, Saturn’s Moons.

  5. Pass out the Question Cards, Answer Cards, and scissors for each team, and have students cut out the playing cards.

  6. Have students shuffle all cards (both questions and answers) into one stack in the middle of the table.

  7. Explain to the students the rules for the game and post them on the board as you explain them, using the conversation guide below:
  8. At the game start, your team will take all the cards and lay them out individually on the table, face up.

    When I say “Go!”, use the notes you took in your Saturn Discovery Log, and work together as fast as you can to match as many answers to their correct question as you can.

    Glue (or tape) the matched pairs side by side on your piece of chart paper, placing them under the section that best matches them (Saturn, Saturn’s Rings, Saturn’s Layers, Saturn’s Moons).

    When you believe you have all questions and answers correctly matched and placed in the right section of your chart paper, call out “Done.” When every team is done, we’ll check the matching pairs.

  9. Set the teams to working on the game. If students are having difficulty finishing the game, pass out the sets of mini-books to refresh their memories.

  10. Number the teams in order as they finish.

  11. When all teams have finished their game chart, post all charts on the wall, and check the matches using the Saturn/Cassini Match Game Answer Key. The earliest team to finish with the correct answers wins.

Session 3 – A Giant Poster of Saturn (about 40 minutes)

  1. Scientists and engineers are responsible for sharing their discoveries with the rest of the scientific community in a way that engages them. Remind students that they have been learning different ways of communicating their science discoveries: journaling, drawings, making models, etc. Now, they will continue as scientists and engineers to engage their “science community” with the information they have just learned in the mini-books by making a poster.

  2. Explain to the students that in this session they will be using the information they gathered in the last session to create a giant poster about Saturn and its rings, layers, and moons.

  3. Divide students into new teams, grouped together by the mini-book for which they were experts. If there are students who missed the earlier sessions, assign them to the smaller teams and encourage the team to share what they’ve learned. If your teams are too large for everyone to participate in designing drawing on the poster, make extra teams and assign them one of the books. Hand each team the mini-book that matches their poster theme. Show the group a sample of NASA poster art.

  4. Give them instructions using the following conversation guide:
  5. You will create a poster like the sample poster art, but the poster your team makes will reflect the theme of your particular mini-book.

    You remember that we talked about the difference between claims and evidence. When we notice something, we can make a claim, but we need the evidence to say that we “know” it. Now that we have read the mini-books on Saturn from scientists at NASA, you can design your posters with claims that have been tested and have “evidence” from discoveries of the Cassini-Huygens mission. Put information you learned from the mini-books on your poster.

    As you work on your poster, think about what you originally “noticed” and what you now “know” from Cassini-Huygens scientists’ discoveries (claims supported by evidence).

    Since answers to science questions often raise new questions, each team should add to their poster one new question you have about your Saturn theme.

  6. Give each team a large piece of chart paper. They can use tempera paints, collage, or any other media to make their Saturn posters. Be sure they have broad-tip markers for writing the text.

  7. As they finish, hang the posters.

Session 4 – Taking Saturn to Scale (about 40 minutes)

  1. Show the students a 3-inch-diameter polystyrene or rubber-band ball, or fresh orange, and tell them it represents Saturn. The outer edges of Saturn’s most visible rings span about twice the diameter of Saturn.

  2. Ask them how big they think Titan would be in a scale model. At this scale, a peppercorn (or built-in pencil eraser) represents the moon Titan. Show the students this model Titan.

  3. Ask the students how big they think our Moon is compared to the Earth. (Earth’s Moon is ¼ the diameter of Earth.) Ask them to suggest materials to represent that relationship. To be on the same scale as a 3-inch Saturn, Earth would be the size of a large green pea (or small blueberry) and Earth’s Moon about the size of a rice grain. See if the students’ suggested materials are about those sizes. If not, were they too big or too small?

  4. Capture this model as a drawing. Ask the students to create in their Saturn Discovery Logs a scale drawing of Saturn, its rings, and Titan by measuring the diameters of the model pieces and transferring the measurements to their paper.

  5. Ask students to label as much of the drawing as possible.


  • Ask the students: Now that you have read the mini-books that contain scientists’ knowledge of Saturn, what can we add to the “Know” column, that is a claim supported by evidence? What can we now move from the “Wonder” column into the “Know” column? Chart their responses in the “Know” column on the appropriate “Notice/Know/Wonder” chart.

  • Hang the teams’ Saturn posters around the room. Give the teams some time to present their posters to the group.

  • Ask the students for new questions they have about Saturn and its moons and chart their responses.


While students are working, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are the students able to read the mini-books? If not, work with them on the vocabulary through the glossary.

  • Are the students taking notes as they read?

  • As the students work on their posters, are they able to identify pieces of information that can stand as claims supported by evidence from their research of the mini-books?

  • Are they able to identify details about the features that they have learned from their reading?

  • Do you see them recognizing that they are beginning to work as scientists or engineers would?


Information for Families

  • Parents can start their own Exploration Journal with their child. It can be a simple “scrapbook journal” with pictures and newspaper articles, their ideas and questions as a jumping-off point for a shared interest in learning more about space.

  • For Saturn-related games, live streaming videos, and just plain fun, parents can visit the Saturn section of NASA's Space Place website with their children. Click here for the Spanish version.

Careers at NASA

Amanda Hendrix

Dr. Amanda Hendrix engages in UV spectroscopy of planetary surfaces including icy satellites, asteroids, Earth’s moon, Mars and Jupiter’s moon Io. She studies surface composition, weathering processes and radiation products. Ask students to write a job description for Amanda Hendrix. What kinds of skills and education does she need? Does she need imagination? Curiosity? What characteristics are important to be a scientist? Read her blog about when she worked at JPL.

Role Model Resources

  • Amanda Hendrix helps to interpret the wealth of data from the Cassini mission to Saturn and Galileo mission to Jupiter to understand the surface composition through a variety of ways. Read more about Amanda Hendrix.


Taking Science to the Next Step

Connections to the Cassini-Huygens mission:

  • Give students 2 to 3 minutes to write new questions they have about Saturn and the Cassini mission in their Saturn Discovery Logs.

  • Create a whole group poster/chart, “What we know about Saturn.”

  • Use the units of engineering — work with the students to convert the measurements in the mini-books into metric units, more commonly used by engineers. Here is an easy was to convert from miles to kilometers: 1 mile = 1.609 kilometers; from feet to meters: 1 foot = 0.3048 meters; from Fahrenheit scale temperature (F) to Celsius scale temperature C = (F – 32)*5/9


  • Write a poem about Saturn, the Jewel of the Solar System. Students can write haiku, odes to Saturn, a rap about Saturn, or nonsense rhymes. Ask students to read their poems aloud.

  • Ask students to work in small teams to write a short story as a team about Saturn that includes 5 Saturn facts. Instructions for a suggested structure are: “Write a short story of four paragraphs with five sentences per paragraph. The first paragraph has your ideas (from entries in your Saturn Discovery Log about “I Wonder…” about Saturn. The second and third paragraphs have a total of 5 Saturn facts. For the last paragraph, think about how your ideas have changed from “I wonder…” to “I know…” since learning facts about Saturn.”