Top Facts about Saturn Planet

Saturn, the sixth planet from the sun, is the second-largest planet in the solar system, smaller only than Jupiter. Saturn is easy to identify because of the large, beautiful system of rings surrounding it. Like Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune, Saturn is a gas giant. It is made mostly of hydrogen and helium, with crystals of ammonia in the upper layers of its atmosphere, which is what gives it its pale yellow color. Although the outermost layers of Saturn are made of gasses, scientists believe that if you travelled down through the atmosphere, you would eventually find that the hydrogen and helium became liquid, and even farther down, metallic, and in the center of the planet, they believe there is a hard rocky core.

Saturn is the least dense planet in the solar system. Although it is much larger than the Earth – about nine times wider and 95 times more massive – it is only about 12% as dense as the Earth is. That means that if you were able to find a bathtub large enough, Saturn would float in the water! Like Jupiter, Saturn has storms and stripes of clouds, they are just harder to see because of their pale color. However, winds on Saturn are much faster than Jupiter’s winds.

Saturn has the second-fastest winds in the solar system, reaching speeds of 1800 km/h. The only planet with winds faster than Saturn is Neptune. Saturn is far from the sun – about 890 million miles or 1.4 billion kilometers away. As a result, it takes a very, very long time to travel around the sun – about 29 years. However, it spins – or rotates – much more quickly than the Earth does.

Instead of rotating once every 24 hours, Saturn’s day lasts less than 11 hours. Saturn is the farthest planet that can be seen by humans without help from a telescope, and so it has been known to humans for thousands of years. The ancient Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Chinese and Japanese astronomers and more all had a name for Saturn. The word ‘Saturn’ comes from the name of the ancient Roman god Saturnus, god of wealth and agriculture. Although ancient astronomers knew about Saturn, no one knew about its rings. The rings are not visible without the help of a telescope, and so it wasn’t until the astronomer Galileo used his telescope to observe Saturn in 1610 that people knew that there was anything different about it at all. When Galileo saw Saturn’s rings, he didn’t know what they could be. He thought they might be moons or smaller planets set beside the main one in the center. He even described the rings as Saturn’s “ears.” It wasn’t until later when stronger telescopes were made, that astronomers realized that Saturn was surrounded by wide, flat rings. Saturn’s rings are about 175,000 miles or 282,000 km across, but only about 30 feet – or 10 meters – thick. They are made of many, many pieces of ice and rock, ranging from the size of a grain of sand to the size of a bus.

Scientists believe that the rings may have formed when comets, asteroids, or even moons collided or were ripped apart by Saturn’s gravity. As time went on these pieces may have continued colliding with each other, smashing into smaller and smaller pieces. In addition to its rings, many moons and satellites orbit Saturn. It has at least 62 moons, and perhaps 100 more smaller bodies also circling it. Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is the second-largest moon in the Solar System. Scientists are very interested in Titan, because it is the only moon in the solar system known to have a dense atmosphere: mostly nitrogen with some methane and hydrogen present. Titan is also the only celestial body aside from Earth that has ever been found to have bodies of liquid on its surface. These liquid bodies are not made of water, of course – the surface of Titan is far too cold for liquid water – so the lakes and seas of Titan are filled with ethane, methane, and propane. So far, only four spacecraft have flown by Saturn. Beginning with Pioneer 11 in 1979 and quickly followed by Voyagers one and two in the early 1980s, no other missions visited Saturn for more than 20 years, until the Cassini spacecraft arrived in 2004 and began orbiting the planet. Cassini remains there to this day, sending pictures and information about Saturn back to Earth. There is no way to know what new information will be revealed next! I hope you enjoyed learning facts about Saturn, the ringed planet.