Any list of the facts about Saturn would include reference to its size and its rings. Saturn is the sixth planet in distance from the Sun, and it is the second largest planet, behind Jupiter, in our solar system.
Saturn History Facts
In the annals of Roman mythology, Saturn was known as the god of agriculture. The Greek god of agriculture, Cronus, was Uranus’s son and he fathered Zeus, who is known as the planet Jupiter. Saturn is also the root of the English word “Saturday”.
Who Discovered Saturn
Saturn was one of the earliest known of the planets, having been known since times prehistoric. Galileo observed it before anyone else recorded seeing it, with a telescope in the year 1610. Since then, facts about Saturn have been steadily expanded to include much information about what makes up the planet.
Galileo was confused when he was confronted with Saturn’s odd appearance by telescope. The Earth passes through Saturn’s rings’ plane once every several years, as Saturn moves within its own orbit. So when viewed through a low resolution lens, Saturn’s image changes quite drastically. Not until 1650 did Christiaan Huyguns infer correctly the geometry of the planet’s rings. After that, astronomers were able to gather more pertinent information about the planet. The rings of Saturn were unique, as far as they knew back in those days, until 1977, when astronomers discovered faint rings around Uranus, and then around Neptune and Jupiter.
Saturn was paid a visit by the NASA probe Pioneer 11, in 1979. Later, it was also studied by Voyagers 1 and 2. A joint NASA/ESA project named Cassini also arrived at Saturn in 2004, and was scheduled to orbit the planet for four years or more. If the orbits of the studying ships do not decay, they are able to return images of the planet and send additional facts about Saturn for as long as they are able.
Saturn Through a Telescope
When you view Saturn through a smaller-sized telescope, it appears flattened. This view is caused by Saturn’s rapid rotation, and its fluid state.
Interesting Saturn Facts For Kids
Saturn is the least dense of all the planets. Its specific gravity of 0.7 is less than that of water. Saturn is composed of roughly 75% hydrogen and 25% helium. There are traces of ammonia, methane, water and “rock” in the planet’s make-up as well.
The interior of Saturn is quite similar to that of Jupiter. It consists of a rocky core, a layer of liquid metallic hydrogen, and a molecular hydrogen layer. There are also traces present of various types of ices.
The interior of Saturn is very hot (12,000 degrees Kelvin at its core), and it radiates more energy out into space than the sun sends its way. This might not even be enough to explain the luminosity of Saturn – some other mechanism may cause this effect, maybe the “raining out” of helium, from deep in Saturn’s interior.
Related: 23 Interesting Pluto Facts for Kids
What is Saturn?
Saturn is the sixth planet from the sun. It’s considered the second largest planet in the solar system; what makes it distinct are its beautiful rings. In Roman mythology, Saturn is the God of Agriculture, in fact, it’s the root of the English word “Saturday”. The first person to observe Saturn’s rings using a telescope was Galileo in 1610. When viewed through a small telescope, Saturn is surprisingly oblate.
What are the Physical Characteristics of Saturn?
Saturn is considered as a gas giant. This is because it’s mostly composed of helium and hydrogen. Another fun fact about Saturn is not having a definite surface. But it may have a core and the rotation of the planet causes its shape to be oblate or flattened. Other giant planets that are also oblate include Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune. Other Saturn facts for kids suggest that it is the only planet that is less dense than water – that is about 30% less. According to kids facts about Saturn, Saturn is actually 95 times more than the mass of the Earth.
How About its Internal Structure?
Saturn is famous to be a gas planet but despite that, most of its mass is not in gas phase. The temperature in Saturn rises steadily to the core. It is suggested that Saturn’s interior is the same with Jupiter – having a small but rocky core, which is enveloped by helium and hydrogen. It has also trace amounts of different volatiles like nitrogen, water, carbon dioxide, ammonia, methane, and sulfur dioxide.
What is the Atmosphere in Saturn?
More fun Saturn facts for kids: Saturn’s atmosphere is predominantly hydrogen (about 96%) and helium (about 3%). As mentioned earlier, it has trace amounts of volatiles like nitrogen, water, carbon dioxide, ammonia, methane, and sulfur dioxide including acetylene, ethane, phosphine, and propane. The wind speed in the upper atmosphere can reach up to 500 meters per second. With the heat rising from the core and the wind speed, this caused the planet’s interior yellow and gold bands.
How About Saturn’s Rings?
You already know that it was Galileo who first saw the rings of Saturn in 1610 but it was Christiaan Huygens who confirmed that Saturn had a thin and flat ring. Fast forward to the future, astronomers with more advanced telescopes observed that Saturn has many rings made of rock and ice ranging in different sizes. Actually, the largest ring is 7,000 greater than the diameter of Saturn. Scientists believe that the rings are made of debris from comets, shattered moons, and asteroids.
The rings are named alphabetically in the order of discovery. The rings are typically close to each other with the exception of Cassini Division – a gap of about 2,900 miles wide. The main rings are called C, B and A and then followed by the Cassini Division B and A.
Saturn’s rings are the most expansive ring system of any planet we have seen. They are made up of countless particles, most of them extremely small, ranging in size from micrometers to meters. The system of Saturn’s rings is divided into five components, but those divisions are actually subdivided into thousands of smaller ringlets. Saturn’s F and G rings are thin and hard to see, while the A, B and C rings are broader and more easily viewed. The gap between the A and B rings is referred to as the Cassini division.
Photographs from NASA’s Voyager missions have shown that Saturn’s rings are made up of hundreds of thousands of what they call “ringlets”, or smaller rings. And the large gap between the A and B rings includes fainter rings that are more difficult to see without high-powered telescopes. The astronomers studying these facts about Saturn have ascertained that these rings can’t be solid, but they could represent either material that never condensed into moons due to tidal forces, or satellites that were torn apart by tidal forces. The rings are made of ice particles, whose sizes may be as large as meters. The mass within the rings is about the size of a moon of medium mass, and the rings, upon closer view, are only about 10 km thick.
Scientists expected that ring particles colliding would make the rings more uniform in shape, but Voyager I discovered that there are changing structures within the radial direction. These are called “spokes”. Astronomers now believe that the gravitational forces by themselves can’t account for the structure of the spokes, and instead they believe that electrostatic repulsion between the particles in the ring may play a role in the spokes’ appearance and structure.
Voyagers I and II discovered that another of the facts about Saturn was her rings are not even all circular. Some even show up as though they are braided. The Voyagers also discovered that Saturn’s outer ring is kept in its place by two small shepherd moons’ gravitational interaction. These shepherd moons lie inside and outside of the ring. Although they were captured by the cameras on Voyager I and II, astronomers are still not entirely sure of how the rings’ shapes are maintained. But these exploration vessels have greatly increased our knowledge of Saturn’s rings. The photographs have also shown scientists just how much we still do not know about the origins, dynamics or structure of the rings.
What About Saturn’s Moons?
There are about 62 moons in Saturn. The largest moon of Saturn is called Titan. It’s a bit larger compared to Mercury. Titan is actually the second largest moon in the solar system next to Jupiter’s Ganymede. Just so you know, Earth’s moon is considered the fifth largest moon in the solar system. Other moons include Pan and Atlas, which look like flying saucers. Lapetus moon has one side that is dark as coal and the other side is bright as snow. There’s also Enceladus that spews water and other chemicals from its spotted geysers.
Saturn’s moons are an interesting aspect of Saturn, for the observer. The large moon Titan has its own atmosphere, which can be seen as a faint outline when viewed through a powerful telescope. Titan is enclosed in several hazy layers. It possesses a surface pressure of 1.6 times that on Earth, and it is primarily made up of nitrogen. It also has about a 1% methane concentration. The surface temperature of Titan is bitterly cold, roughly -180 degrees Celsius. The atmosphere is very opaque, probably due to thick smog that seems to result from hydrocarbons interacting with sunlight. This is also the way smog forms on Earth.
The clouds around Titan are most likely composed of methane drops and liquid nitrogen, and astronomers speculate that Titan might have hydrocarbon oceans or lakes. One of the facts about Saturn that is disputed, is that some believe that life could have evolved on Titan, while some believe that it appears much too cold for life as we know it to have lived there.
Saturn has many other moons, mostly with surfaces so cold that the icy surface is as rigid as rock. The other moons also have many craters displayed, from meteor impacts. Most of Saturn’s moons are locked tidally, and as they orbit, they have the same face turned towards their mother planet.
The Rhea moon seems to have many craters, based on viewing the moon via telescope. Iapetus, another moon, has one side that is ten times darker than the other. Some of Saturn’s other moons include Mimas, which displays an impact crater that is ¼ the diameter of the moon. Enceladus may be active geographically because of the tidal heating by Saturn. Tethys has one large flat crater that is half the diameter of the moon, and also has a large canyon visible by powerful telescopes. The moon Dione is cratered heavily.
Astronomers have found two smaller moons that share Tethys’ orbit, and one small moon that shares the orbit of Dione. This “orbit-sharing” had previously not been seen before a detailed investigation of Saturn’s own system was undertaken. Hyperion has a chaotic rotation caused by Titan’s gravity. And the outermost of all Saturn’s moons, named Phoebe, may actually be a captured asteroid.
Due to a variety of instances in study, we now know that one of the facts about Saturn states that her rings may in fact be stabilized by her moons. Their gravitational forces may be one of the things that keep the rings where they are. Two small “shepherd moons” named Pandora and Prometheus, keep one of Saturn’s rings narrow. Scientists have found that shepherd satellites play a role in the shapes of rings, but they still don’t fully understand the details about the roles these shepherd satellites play.
How Many Spacecraft Have Visited Saturn?
As of date, there are only four spacecraft that have visited Saturn. Three of these were brief. The first was Pioneer 11 in 1979. It just flew briefly within 20,000 kilometers of Saturn. The next was Voyager 1 in 1980 followed by Voyager 2 in 1981. It was Cassini in 2004 that orbited around Saturn and captured photographs of the planet’s moons and rings. Cassini 2017 is completed a 13-year orbital mission.
How Long is a Day on Saturn?
Determining the rotation of Saturn was challenging because the planet has a flat surface. It’s not like Mercury, where you can see how long it would take for a specific crater to rotate back into view. Saturn facts for kids suggest that astronomers came up with one solution to determine Saturn’s rotational speed, astronomers measured the planet’s magnetic field. Saturn has an average day of 10 hours and 32 minutes.
Do the Rings Disappear?
Saturn has rings and sometimes it looks like they are disappearing. It just appears to be vanishing because the axis is titled. From Earth, you can see Saturn changing position as it completes its 30-year journey orbiting the sun. Sometimes you will see that the rings are fully open. In 2008-2009, the rings seemed to disappear. It will happen again come 2024-2025.
Could There Be Life on Saturn?
The answer is no; this is because the environment is too hostile to support life. Other facts about Saturn – one moon has the possibility of supporting life – the Enceladus. Remember that the Enceladus spews out water and other chemicals through its geysers.
Cool Facts About Saturn
- One would expect such a large planet as Saturn to have a moon or two. Saturn, at last count, has about 60 moons, and more are still being discovered.
- One moon, Titan, has some features that suggest it may contain water, and possibly some type of life form.
- Most of the moons of Saturn are not “moon-like”. They are not all big and round. Some are only a few kilometers across. Others look like nothing more than large rocks or meteorites.
- Not all of the moons lie in the same orbit as the famous rings, but a few of them do. These moons can influence the shape of the rings to some degree.
- Seen up close, some of the rings appear to have breaks in them. Some look like they have been braided by a giant hand.
- One of the truly unusual facts about Saturn is that some of the rings contain what appear to be spokes, like the spokes in a wheel.
- The rings look quite large when viewed through a telescope.
- Sometimes we might search for the rings through a telescope only to find they seem to have disappeared. The reason for this is that the thickness of the rings is, on the average, only about 100 meters.
- The rings are seen on edge for a period of time about once every 15 years.
- If you can’t see the rings, wait a couple of years. Then try again.
- Saturn has no surface, at least not a firm, terrestrial surface. Saturn is a gassy planet.
- Scientific measurements indicate that the average density of Saturn is about half the density of water.
- If you tried to land on Saturn you really couldn’t tell when you reached the surface.
- You may go far into the interior of the planet before encountering liquid or solid material.
- There are 7 major rings encircling Saturn and a number of minor, fainter rings.
- One of the more amazing facts about Saturn is the speed in which it rotates. The fact that the planet’s density is so low may allow this high speed of rotation.
- Saturn, having a diameter of roughly 96,000 miles, completes a rotation in just over 10 hours.
- Since it is a gas planet, not all parts of the planet rotate at quite the same speed. Some parts lag a bit.
- Since Saturn rotates so fast, it tends to bulge at the equator.
- The planet is not perfectly round but squashed a bit at the poles.
- The fast rotation also causes strong winds. Wind speeds exceeding 1,000 miles an hour are not uncommon.
- The winds would be in some ways like monster Santa Ana winds as Saturn is a fairly hot planet.
- Saturn generates more heat than the sun provides it with.
There are many more Saturn facts yet to be uncovered. We probably will never know as much about the planet as we might like to. One thing is for sure. For the amateur star gazer, the first view of Saturn through a telescope will always be a thrill, especially when the rings are not on edge.