Facts About Planet Saturn - The Planet With Rings

Saturn - facts about saturn

Saturn is the second-largest planet in the solar system, after Jupiter and named after Roman God of time and agriculture. Saturn's gaseous nature means that it has no truly solid surface. Instead, it is mainly made up of hydrogen (94%), helium (6%) and a small amount of ammonia and methane. Like Jupiter, it has probably a rocky core surrounded by ice and metallic hydrogen. The most prominent feature of Saturn is its most significant and brightest ring. Saturn's ring system is divided into seven groups of rings and made of icy and rocky materials. So far, only four spacecraft had visited Saturn.

Facts about Saturn

A Video On Saturn Facts

Planet Profile

Name Saturn
Known Satellite 82 (as of 2019)
Distance from Sun (avg) 1.434 billion km
Equatorial Radius 69,911 km
Polar Radius 54,232 km
Volume 8.27 × 1014 km3
Mass 5.683 × 1026 kg
Surface area 42.7 billion km2
Gravity 10.44 m/s2
Surface Temperature
( at 1 bar)
-139℃ or -218 °F
Length of day 0 day 10 hrs 42 min (earth time)
Length of year 29 Earth years
Astronomical symbol

Quick Facts About Saturn

  1. Wind speed on Saturn can reach up to 1,800 kilometres or 1,118 miles per hour.
  2. The magnetic field of Saturn is slightly weaker than Earth's. That is about one-twentieth strength of Jupiter's magnetic field.
  3. Distance between Saturn and Jupiter is the same about the gap between Jupiter and the Sun.
  4. Saturn and Jupiter together account for 92% of all the planetary mass in the solar system.
  5. Saturn is the flattest planet in the solar system due to its fast spinning.
  6. Difference between the equatorial radius and poler radius is only about 10%. Equatorial radius is 60,268 km or 37,449 mile and its polar radius is 54,364 km 33,780 miles.
  7. Saturn's ring is wide enough to fit six earth in a row.
  8. But its rings are only about 10 to 30 meter thick.
  9. One day on Saturn is only about 10 hours and 33 minutes, but it takes 29 earth years to complete its orbit.
  10. Because of its vast orbit, through your life, you could see Saturn 3 times in the same position.
  11. Earth is the densest planet, but Saturn is the least dense planet in the solar system because it is mainly composed of hydrogen and helium.
  12. Saturn is actually less dense than water. If you put Saturn in a big bathtub full of water, it would float.

Detailed Facts about Saturn

  • Saturn is named after Roman god of time

Saturn - God of ancient Romans
Saturn - God of ancient Romans
© Wikimedia

He was the god of a lot of things, including farming, freedom and weekends. Well maybe not the weekend's specifically, but Saturday gets its name from him. He was also the father of Jupiter - king of Roman gods. Saturn shares similarities with the Greek titan Kronos. But Romans declared Saturn to be their own special God.

He was the patron deity of the city, had a temple in the forum and guarded the Roman Treasury. Romans were so keen on him that they celebrated a December holiday called Saturnalia, which shared similarities with modern-day Christmas.
  • People knew Saturn long ago

Saturn is one of those planets that aren't really new. Yeah, we know it is billions of years old, but we mean that people have known about it since antiquity. That is because Saturn's large size makes it noticeable to the naked eye on certain nights.

Astronomers noted Saturn as far back as the early first millennium BC. Ancient Chinese, Greek and Indian scholars actually incorporated the planet into their Pantheon's. In fact, the 2nd century Greco-roman astronomer Ptolemy even came up with a calculation to Saturn's orbit. He used Earth and the Sun as base points.
  • The disappearing "arms" of Saturn confused Galileo

Galileo's sketch of Saturn
Galileo's sketch of Saturn

The ancient civilisations were familiar with Saturn, but none of them actually saw the planet. At least not clearly! It wasn't until 1610 when Galileo Galilei did the first observation on Saturn with his telescope. But telescope of that period didn't allow him to see much. He noticed two "arms" or two large moons on either side of Saturn. When he again observed Saturn, after a few years, the arms were disappeared. The disappearance happened because the Saturn is tilted on its axis and he was looking at the edge of Saturn's ring.

Later in 1659, a Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens solved the mystery of disappearing "arms", with the help of his improved telescope. He finally deduced that the "arms" were actually a ring system. Following Huygens, in 1675 Giovanni Cassini confirmed it when he identified a gap in the ring. In honour of both Huygens and Cassini, NASA named its Saturn space mission, that provided the most detailed image yet of our solar systems second largest world.
  • Saturn is 95 times more massive than Earth

Saturn and Earth size Comparison
Saturn and Earth-size Comparison

Saturn is one of four gas giants in our solar system. It is so gigantic, in fact, it could fit 764 earths inside of it. It also has the distinction of being the second-largest planet in our solar system, second only to Jupiter. The planet measures 75,000 miles or 120,000 kilometres in equatorial diameter, nine times wider than Earth's.

Because of its gassy state, you can't actually stand on Saturn there's simply nothing on the surface to support you. 96% of the planet is made up of hydrogen, a pretty unstable element to begin with. There is a solid core in theory at least, but no one is certain how big it is.
  • Saturn is 9.5 times farther from the Sun than Earth

Orbits of Saturn and other outer planets with their positions
Orbits of Saturn and other outer planets with their positions

Get ready for some big numbers because Saturn is very far away from us. It is the sixth planet from the Sun, and like other planets, it follows an elliptical orbit. So you'd expect it to be way out there depending on where it is in its orbit.

The average distance from Sun is 1.4 billion km or 886 million miles, but it varies throughout its year. At its closest proximity (perihelion), Saturn is around 839 million miles or 1.4 billion kilometres from the Sun; at its farthest point (aphelion), it is about 934 million miles or 1.5 million km away. Making it nearly nine and a half to ten times farther away from the Sun than Earth.
  • Saturn has an unorthodox North Pole

North pole of Saturn
North pole of Saturn

You may imagine the North Pole be something circular or misshapen but not on Saturn. A near-perfect hexagon surrounds Saturn's North Pole at about 20,000 miles or 32,000 kilometres wide. The sides of the hexagon are more than the diameter of the earth, which is approximately 14,500 km or 9,000 miles long. Saturn's Pole is vast and full of swirls or stormy winds that travel at about 200 miles or 320 km/h. But Saturn's south pole does not have a hexagon. Instead, it has a vortex. There is also a vortex in the North Pole but inside the hexagon.

The hexagonal north pole first noted during Voyager mission in 1981. The hexagon changed its colour from blue to a golden colour between 2012 and 2016. The swirls are due to the low friction atmosphere. How the hexagon is formed, it is still a mystery.
  • Saturn is surrounded by hundreds of moons and moonlets

Major moons of Saturn
Major moons of Saturn
© Flicker
Saturn has a lot of moons! Seriously a lot, beating out Jupiter only by 3 moons. There are at least 150 moons and moonlets. Out of which only 82 satellites have confirmed orbits and 29 of the 82 satellites are still waiting for names (as of 2019). If we're going of NASA's official numbers, each is named after deities and mythological beings and not just Greek and Roman.

They are pretty diverse in name and size. The largest and perhaps most famous of them is Titan. The moon is bigger than the planet Mercury but not much smaller than Mars. On the other side of the spectrum, Mimas is the smallest, which can fit inside the state of Texas. Most of the moons are small icy bodies that are part of its stunning ring system. They are the shapes of spherical, cylindrical and saucer.
  • Saturn's moon Enceladus is the brightest moon in the solar system

Enceladus - one of the smallest moon of Saturn
Enceladus - one of the smallest moon of Saturn

This small icy moon is about 500 km or 310 miles across, and it could sit nestled between Los Angeles than San Francisco. It is one of the brightest objects in our solar system. Thanks to its white icy surface which reflects 90% of the light that hits it. The surface is freezing at temperatures of minus 330 degrees Fahrenheit or -201 degrees Celsius.

But there is one area that is not quite that cold though the South Pole. In 2005, Cassini spotted active geysers of water spewing from the south pole. That warm section emits fountains of ice that last hundreds of miles into space. The water is erupting from a series of cracks nicknamed as “tiger stripes”. It is coming from deep under the surface. Cassini even flew directly through the plumes and detected organic molecules. For this reason, astronomers speculating about the possibility of life.
  • Saturn's moon Titan has rivers and lakes, but they carry Methane

Kraken Mare - largest known liqiud body on Titan
Kraken Mare - largest known liquid body on the surface of titan, bigger than the entire country of Japan

Titan is the second-largest satellite in the solar system and only satellite that has a substantial atmosphere. This orange moon has Earth-like terrain including winds, dry river beds and lakes, subsurface oceans, and cryovolcanoes. But you can't breadth in that atmosphere because it’s mostly nitrogen, with a smattering of methane and hydrogen. Some volcanoes spew liquid water instead of lava. These are called cryovolcanoes. Scientists think that Titan may have an underground ocean of liquid water.

Cassini also spotted lakes of liquid methane near its north and south poles. There is no other world, apart from Earth which has that type of liquid activity on its surface. It also deployed a probe named "Huygens" to land on Titan’s surface - the first time humanity had ever touched down on an outer solar system world. NASA will send nuclear-powered dragonfly in 2026 which search for life on Titan.
  • The ring of Saturn may be made of broken pieces of icy moons

NASA's Caasini orbiter captured a panaromic mosaic of Saturn
NASA's Cassini orbiter captured a panoramic mosaic of Saturn with its full set of rings and our Earth as a dot in the background

The most exciting part the Saturn is its beautiful and dazzling rings. They are mostly bits of ice pulled together by complex gravitational forces. The composition of these particles and the light shining at them gives off the stunning colours we're familiar with. But how the rings were formed? Well, there are several hypotheses on how the rings of Saturn was formed.

One of the theory states during the formation of the solar system, a large moon made up primarily of ice was pulled into Saturn's gassy orbit. Before it took the fatal plunge, the moon was stripped of its icy mantle. The remains were swept into the path around Saturn. It's believed that many other moons may have faced a similar fate. They shed, even more, ice into Saturn's ring system. But there's still a lot more we have to learn about ring formation.
  • Rings of Saturn divided alphabetically according to their discovery

Saturn with full set of rings
Saturn with a full set of rings

Like its moons, Saturn's rings are also very diverse in scale. They are ranging in thickness from 30 feet or 10 meters all the way up to 19,000 miles or 30,000 kilometres wide. Scientists counts seven layers of rings lettered A to G in the order of their discovery. Altogether, they are wide as four and a half Earth.

The A and B ring are the brightest and densest rings of the planet. They are divided by Cassini Division, discovered by Giovanni Domenico Cassini. The gap is about 5000 kilometres or 3,000 miles wide, and it is due to Saturn’s moons Mimas. The C and D are inner and fainter rings, covered with dark materials. F ring is at the edge of A ring. The G and E rings are the outermost and farthest rings of Saturn.
  • Saturn's impressive rings are disappearing

Charged particles of rings raining on saturn
Charged particles of rings raining on Saturn

When you think of Saturn, you think rings. But according to NASA, the rings will not last more than 300 million years. Yes! Saturn is losing its ring much faster than previously thought. Every second 10,000 kilograms of ring material falling out of the Saturn's rings. Fast enough to fill an Olympic-sized pool in half an hour.

Saturn’s rings consist mostly of water ice and dust. They are under constant bombardment with Ultraviolet light from the Sun and plasma clouds coming from tiny meteoroids. When this collision happens, icy particles vaporise and form charged water molecules. Which then became attached to Saturn’s magnetic field and pulled into the planet by gravity. These charged particles rain down onto Saturn's upper atmosphere where it begins to disintegrate. The Rings are only a hundred to two hundred million years old. We are pretty lucky that we are able to see those magnificent rings.

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