Saturn is often called the jewel of the solar system, a planet that can be seen with the naked eye and which people have spent centuries tracking and gazing at, probing the heavenly body at every occasion.
Saturn is quite unique among the planets, embellished with thousands of striking rings. Many planets have rings made of ice and rock chunks, but none are as stunning or as complex as Saturn’s. \
Saturn is a massive ball, just like fellow gas giant Jupiter, made mostly of hydrogen and helium. What else is there to know about this amazing planet? Here’s 17 interesting facts about Saturn waiting for you to discover:
Number 6 is reserved for Saturn
Saturn is second when it comes to size
Saturn is the second-largest planet in the solar system, boasting an equatorial diameter of 120,500 km, and a polar diameter of 108,000 km. Saturn has a mass of 5.68 x 1026 kg, which is roughly 95 Earths.
The winds on its surface travel at 1,800 km/hr. This makes Saturn’s winds the fastest in the entire solar system. Also, there are oval-shaped storms on Saturn. These are similar to the oval-shaped storms on Jupiter.
Saturn constitutes hydrogen (75%) and helium (25%). There are trace amounts of ammonia, water, and methane, not to mention some sort of rock. As you descend into the planet, the hydrogen layers start becoming denser, eventually taking on a metallic form. The core is rocky and hot.
Saturn’s hydrogen consequence
Because of its makeup (primarily hydrogen), its density is less than that of water. This makes it the least dense planet in the solar system.
Saturn spins faster than you think!
The planet looks flat. In fact, it is the flattest of the planets. You can blame this on its rapid rotation and the impact it has on Saturn’s fluid state.
Shortest of days, longest of years
It takes the planet 10 hours and 34 minutes to fully rotate on its axis. This is the duration of a day on Saturn. It takes Saturn 29.4 Earth years to complete its rotation around the Sun. This makes a year on Saturn the equivalent of 29.4 years on Earth.
Saturn’s “jewellery” collection
Saturn is renowned for its rings. It has over thirty of them categorised into seven groups. Saturn’s ring system is the most extensive in the entire solar system. Saturn’s rings are classified using the letters of the English alphabet. They range from A to G. The classifications are assigned to the rings based on the order in which they were discovered. Groups A, B, and C are the most visible from our planet.
The creation of Saturn’s rings
Scientists believe that these rings were formed when tidal waves destroyed a medium-sized moon within the planet’s orbit. The rings are made of tiny ice particles, dust, and debris. The rings are incredibly thin, just 20 metres in thickness. This is despite the fact that the largest among them is 7,000 times Saturn’s diameter.
Saturn’s many moons
The planet has 150 moons, with the largest, Titan, being the second-largest moon in the solar system. It only loses out to Jupiter’s Ganymede in size. These moons are frozen and rocky. Some of the moons have really exciting features, for example, Pan and Atlas look like flying saucers, and Iapetus is bright as snow on one side and dark as coal on the other.
Yellow looks good on Saturn
If you’ve ever seen Saturn through a telescope, you know it’s true: Yellow is the domineering colour of Saturn’s dense clouds. In fact, the sunlight reflected from Saturn’s clouds is what gives the planet its golden hue, while the outer layer of ammonia crystals in Saturn’s atmosphere is responsible for its yellow appearance.
It’s chilly out there!
Saturn has a weaker magnetic field than Jupiter and the Earth. It has a variable surface temperature from about -185 degrees Celsius or -300 degrees Fahrenheit, to -122 C or -188 F. The temperature variation is a result of the planet’s internal processes, not the Sun. Temperatures increase to Earth-like conditions as you dive through the clouds.
Historical Saturn facts
The first evidence of Saturn
Saturn was first recorded by the Assyrians in the 8th. They portrayed the ringed planet as a shine in the night and named it “Star of Ninib.”
Saturn was named after a Roman God
Its name comes from Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture. The Greeks call this deity Cronus one of the Titans and Zeus’s father (the Roman god Jupiter). Known to ancient observers as the farthest of the planets, Saturn was also noted to be the slowest-moving.
Galileo spotted Saturn a long time ago
Galileo observed the planet in 1610 but he wasn’t sure what he was looking at. His rudimentary telescope couldn’t make sense of the rings which, to him, looked like arms or ears.
Who discovered Saturn’s rings?
The Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens eventually identified the rings in 1655 with his superior telescope. He also discovered Titan.
Saturn’s guest list
NASA’s Pioneer 11 was the first craft to visit Saturn. That was in 1979. Since then, three other spacecraft have gone to Saturn. The first three just flew by. Cassini in 2004 actually went into Saturn’s orbit.
Do you know any fun facts about Saturn? Share them in the comments below!
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