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
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
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.