jupiter badge: name and stats
Chart of relative sizes of planets
Physical Orbital Atmosphere
physical characteristics of Saturn
orbital characteristics of Saturn
atmosphere characteristics of Saturn
Inner core
Metallic hydrogen
Atmosphere
Surface

Saturn is named after the Roman god of agriculture. This amazing planet rotates faster on its axis than any other planet, except Jupiter, which is why it has a very short day. It only takes 10 hours and 24 minutes for one rotation on its axis, compared to Earth's 24 hours. However, the planet has a very long year. It takes 10,759 Earth days, or about 29 1/2 Earth years, for Saturn to travel around the Sun.
Seen with the naked eye Saturn looks like a regular yellowish star, however when observed with powerful binoculars or a telescope it is probably the most satisfying object to view in the Solar System.

Like Jupiter, Saturn's atmosphere consists mainly of hydrogen and helium, however the ratio is different. Saturn contains less hydrogen (75%) and more helium (25%) than Jupiter. Small amounts of water, methane and ammonia are also present.
Powerful winds blow with speeds approaching 1,100 mph. These winds are three time faster than the strongest winds on Earth! Saturn's belts are fainter than Jupiter's and have yellowish brown shades.
Noticeable spots similar to the Great Red Spot are sometimes seen on Saturn. Large white clouds can also be observed periodically.
Saturn is giant planet, comparable in size and structure to only to Jupiter. Since the atmospheric pressure increases with depth, the increasing pressure changes hydrogen into different states. First hydrogen is transformed from the gaseous state to the liquid state, and eventually, as the pressure dramatically increases to the exotic metallic state. Scientists believe that a small rocky or metallic core exists in the center, where temperatures reach 12,000°K. Like Jupiter, Saturn emits more heat than it receives from the Sun as a result of gravitational contraction.
Even though Saturn is a fruitful planet for observation with telescopes from Earth, the space flights of Pioneer 11, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 in the early 1980's were able to provide more detailed information about this planet. The next spacecraft to visit, Cassini, named after the Italian astronomer who discovered the dark gaps in Saturn's rings, was launched in 1997. Cassini reached Saturn in 2004 and started its four year exploration of the planet, rings and moon. Studying the rings is important in helping scientists understand the formation process of our Solar System. The space craft also took pictures of Saturn's satellites and sent the Huygens probe to Saturn's moon, Titan.
With powerful binoculars you can get a glimmer of Saturn's rings, which appear as one oval around a disk. With greater magnification it is possible to distinguish two bright and one faint ring. However, the Voyager spacecraft collected images of four additional rings. The rings surround Saturn at its equator and are very wide, stretching up to 180,000 miles. Yet, these rings are so thin that they cannot be seen when in direct line with the Earth. Each consists of small rocks, dust and ice particles. The ice particles reflect the sun's rays, making Saturn's rings appear brighter than the other planet rings. Satellites orbit around Saturn in the gaps between the rings. Currently Saturn has 56 moons, however only 19 of them are significantly large. The largest one, Titan, even has an atmosphere that is ten times thicker than the Earth's.
The formation of Saturn's spectacular rings is still a mystery. It is not clear if they formed from leftovers during Saturn's formation or are the result of a large moon breaking apart. However, they will not last forever. Computer simulations show that disintegration of these rings will probably happen within 50 million years. Some of the tiny particles that form the rings will escape while the other will fall on Saturn, pulled by gravity.

Gallery of Satellites of Saturn (partial)

Image of Io Image of Europa Image of Ganymede Image of Callisto Image of Metis image of Adrastea image of Amalthea image of Thebe image of Thebe image of Thebe Image of Io Image of Europa Image of Ganymede image of Thebe Image of Callisto Image of Metis image of Adrastea image of Amalthea

Great White Spot

The white clouds in Saturn's atmosphere show seasonal changes. They usually form during the "midsummer" on the northern hemisphere. These clouds were seen in 1933, 1960 and 1990.

Floating Saturn

Saturn has the lowest density of all planets and satellites. It would float in a gigantic ocean, since it density is 0.7 that of water's.

Iapetus

Iapetus, one of the strangest of Saturn's satellites, has two completely different sides. One half is covered with very dark material, while the other is covered with snow white ice.

hydrogen

The most common element in the Universe and the main fuel of stars.

helium

A colorless and oderless single-atom gas, it is the second most abundant element in the universe.

Great Red Spot

An oval-shaped storm, twice the size of Earth and located near the equator of the planet Jupiter. It has been observed from Earth for the last 300 years.

Atmospheric pressure

The pressure caused by the weight of a planet's atmosphere.

Pioneer 11

Launched on Arpil 5, 1973, Pioneer 11 also made it to Jupiter and sent valuable images of the Galilean moon, Callisto. Using Jupiter's gravity, it then changed trajectories and headed towards Saturn, from which it sent images of the giant planet's moons and rings.
In the event that Pioneer 11 is found by an intelligent alien civilization, it carries on board an aluminum plaque with diagrams representing the origin and makers of the spacecraft. The plaque was designed by Carl Sagan, Frank Drake and Linda Salzman Sagan.

Voyager 1

A spacecraft launched on September 5th, 1977 by NASA to explore the Solar System and fly by Jupiter and Saturn. In the event it is ever found by an alien civilization, Voyager 1 carries a gold-plated copper record with music, sounds, images and diagrams from Earth, designed in part by Carl Sagan and Frank Drake.
Currently, Voyager 1 is in the outer edges of the Solar System and is still in operation.

Voyager 2

The second half of the Voyager mission and launched by NASA on August 1977, Voyager 2 sent back data on previously unknown rings of Jupiter, detailed photographs of the Great Red Spot, close-up pictures of the moon Europa, and additional detailed photographs of the surface of Saturn. Voyager 2 also managed to continue on to the planet Uranus and gather more valuable information. Like its sibling, Voyager 1, Voyager 2 also carries a copy of the Golden Record.

Cassini

Launched in 1997, and a joint venture between NASA, ESA and ASI, the Cassini satellite has been orbiting Saturn since 2004 and has been responsible for the data which has resulted in the discovery of seven new moons orbiting Saturn.
It also carried the Huygens probe, which landed on the surface of the moon, Titan, in 2005.

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Huygens probe

A probe which flew as part of ESA's Cassini-Huygens mission, launched in 2004, and was tasked with descending through the atmosphere of Saturn's moon, Titan.
It landed on Titan's surface in 2005 and succeeded in sending 350 images to the orbiting Cassini, which then relayed the images to Earth.