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Saturn

The Lord Of The Rings

Saturn is the sixth planet from the sun and the second largest in the solar system after Jupiter and it is also a gas giant. Saturn is named after the Roman god Saturnus.

The planet Saturn stands out from the rest of the objects in our solar system mainly because of its beautiful rings. The rings consist of countless small particles, ranging in size from micrometres to metres, that form clumps that in turn orbit about Saturn.





The ring particles are made almost entirely of water ice, with some contamination from dust and other chemicals. The brightness of Saturn is mainly due to the rings reflecting the sun's light onto the planet's surface but Saturn's rings are still not visible from Earth without visual aid. The rings were first seen by Galileo Galilei in 1610, the year he first looked at space through a telescope. During 1980 and 1981, Voyager 1 & 2 imaged the ring system extensively and the spaecraft's instruments observed gaps in the ring system. The rings have been given letter names in the order of their discovery. The main rings are, working outward from the planet, known as C, B, and A. The Cassini Division is the largest gap in the rings and separates Rings B and A. In addition a number of fainter rings have been discovered more recently. The D Ring is exceedingly faint and closest to the planet. The F Ring is a narrow feature just outside the A Ring. Beyond that are two far fainter rings named G and E. The speed at which the rings rotate around Saturn has been calculated at 40,000 miles per hour.

How The Rings Formed

Saturn's rings may be very old, dating to the formation of Saturn itself. One theory regarding the formation of the rings is that the rings were once a moon of Saturn whose orbit decayed until it came close enough to be ripped apart by the planet's gravitational pull. The second theory is that the rings were never part of a moon, but are instead left over from the original nebular material from which Saturn formed.

 

Saturn's Moons

Saturn has 53 named moons with the largest being Titan. Long hidden behind a thick veil of haze, Titan is the only moon in the solar system that possesses a dense atmosphere (10 times denser than Earth's). The fact that this atmosphere is rich in organic material and that living organisms as we know them are composed of organic material is particularly intriguing.

Most of Saturn's moons are tidally locked, like our moon, which means that they keep the same face turned toward the planet as they orbit. Rhea and Iapetus are two moons with very distinct features with Rhea having many impact craters and Iapetus having one side 10 times darker than the other.

The outermost satellite of Saturn is Phoebe and has been described as a captured asteroid.

 

Saturn's Orbit

Saturn barely comes within 1.2 billion kilometers of Earth and 1.35 billion kilometers of the Sun. Due to this distance, it is the second-farthest planet that can be seen by the naked eye, and the farthest planet that can be regularly and easily observed. Saturn, along with Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, and Jupiter, was one of the five planets known to the ancient world.

Saturn's orbit is fairly irregular, 0.06 from the circular. About 202 million kilometers separate its perihelion and aphelion, the points nearest and farthest from the sun....a considerable distance.

A day on Saturn is less than half that of a day on Earth, and a year is about thirty times longer. That comes to more than 24,232 Saturnian days in the Saturnian year. More interesting to most than Saturn�s orbit are the things that orbit around it: its moons and rings.

 

Facts About Saturn

  • Saturn is the second largest planet in the solar system but it is also the least dense

  • Saturn is less dense that water so, if you could find a pool large enough, Saturn would float like a football

  • Saturn's rotation is so quick that it resembles a flattened ball

  • Saturn has only been visited 4 times - It wasn't until Cassini's arrival in 2004 that a spacecraft actually went into orbit around Saturn and captured photographs of the planet and its rings and moons





 

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