Traveling through the rings of Saturn, no one sees anything. The jeweled crown of the Solar System is a hailstorm swirling without end around Saturn, a place where ships might pass close enough for visual recognition but never see each other.
I was reminded of this by a commenter who, a couple of posts back, linked to a section of the ever growing Atomic Rockets site that I had entirely missed. The Solar System's leading tourist attraction, gorgeously visible through a backyard scope, is a weird and wonderful place. The laws of physics are the same, but the circumstances are so different that most of our conventional rules don't apply.
The fine structure of the major rings is magnificent, but most astonishing is how enormously compact they are along the 'vertical' north-south axis. The main bulk of the brightest and most massive of the rings, the B Ring, is estimated to be about only about 5-15 meters deep on average.
Within this narrow band the clutter is amazingly dense. The B Ring extends from 92,000 km from the center of Saturn outward to 117,600 km, giving it a cross sectional area of 1.69 * 10^10 square kilometers. It has an estimated mass of 2.8 * 10^19 kg, thus 1.66 million kg per square kilometer, or 1.66 tons per square meter of cross section. It is mostly water ice, so if the whole B Ring could be compressed into a flat solid disk it would be about 1.66 meters thick - about a sixth of its actual average thickness.
In fact the B Ring is so dense along its center plane that the iceballs may coalesce into 'solid' skeins, endlessly dissolving and reforming.
Hollywood? Are you paying attention?
If there is any place for real, classic style space fighters, it is the rings of Saturn. Relative speeds in the immediate ring plane will be slower than jets, more like highway speeds, since you're flying through the hailstorm, and even the clear lanes between rubble skeins probably have a good many smaller bits and the occasional big chunk drifting through them. The farther you get above or below the plane - on a scale of tens of meters - the clearer the going and the better the seeing, but the more exposed you are.
Wingmen, cruising on each side of the center plane, switching off now and then to throw off watchers? Raiders slipping along the center plane, working their way like experienced rivermen between the skeins?
Any craft with a human crew is much hotter than the rings, more than 200 K hotter, and would stand out in the mid IR. But if you are also coasting along through the rings, your view along the ring plane is practically nil; you are driving, or drifting, though the hailstorm. An observer far from the ring plane has a better view, but the rings still provide an lot of background clutter.
And an observer far from the ring plane is fully exposed to view, and therefore fully exposed to fire.
If there are denser clumps among the rings - and a 400 meter moonlet has been found in the B Ring - these could provide a place of concealment for larger ships or habs. And those billions of tons of ice drifting around might even allow that Holy Grail of space stealth, hiding your waste heat signature.
The B ring is at about -200 C, so melting a ton of B ring ice requires about 280,000 Kcal, or 1.1 GJ. Thus you can get rid of a gigawatt of waste heat by melting a not quite a ton of ring rubble each second. A moonlet 100 meters in diameter has up to half a million tons of ice (somewhat less if it is a loose rubble pile with voids). Stick a heat pipe into the center and pump away; it will take up to a week for the melt to reach the surface - and until it does, the heat is all trapped inside.
At the end of the week, you just gather another rubble pile (less than a square kilometer of ring), and start heating its interior. Your abandoned heat sinks will gradually cool off, but at a very slow rate, its surface barely warmer than its neighbors, its minimal signature lost amid all the random jostling in the rings. A rogue hab could drift through the ring system leaving only the most ghostly trace of its presence.
And the rings are vast, the B Ring alone 25,000 km wide and more than half a million in circumference, so there is plenty of room to lose yourself in.
Yes, there is something tacky about planning space battles in the rings of Saturn, sort of like visiting the Grand Canyon and thinking of what a great shoot 'em up Western you could film there. But hey, spectacle you want, spectacle you got.
Now all you need is an excuse to be there. The only sure reason for humans to go to the rings of Saturn is that they are so cool, but battles between rival tour operators would kill the business. Gathering He 3 for fusion reactors is a popular explanation for going to Saturn, but not a convincing one. If you have fusion technology and deep space access, you can use dirty reactions to breed clean fuel. All you need is ice and a good safe distance from human habitats, neither of which requires going 10 AU.
More convincing (IMHO) is that we will go to Saturn because it is cool, and if we go in sufficient numbers we will develop an economy to sustain ourselves there. And humans can always find ways to get into conflicts, if that is what the plot calls for.
The image, from Cassini via Astronomy Picture of the Day, is backlit by the Sun, itself eclipsed by Saturn.