Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun, and the second largest, after Jupiter. Though remote from the Earth, Saturn’s unique ring system makes it possibly the most instantly recognized planet in our Solar System. Here are some more fascinating facts about “the ringed planet”:
– Saturn is called a “gas giant” because, though it looks solid, it is made up of gases, primarily hydrogen and helium. It also has a rocky core comprised of heavier elements, such as of iron, nickel, silicon and oxygen compounds covered in a layer of metallic hydrogen. Jupiter, Neptune, and Uranus are also considered gas giants, though Saturn is the only planet of the Solar System that is less dense than water.
– Saturn’s diameter is about 74,900 miles, 9 1/2 times the Earth’s. Though about 833 Earths would fit into Saturn, the planet’s density is only one-eighth that of the Earth, making Saturn’s mass barely ninety-five times greater than the Earth’s.
– It takes Saturn about 10,747 Earth days, or about 29 years, to orbit the Sun. Because Saturn’s surface is not solid, measuring its rotation is difficult. Different parts of the planet actually rotate at different speeds. At its equator, one day is equal to 10 hours and 14 minutes. Other areas take about 10 hours and 39 minutes to complete a rotation.
– Saturn’s distinctive planetary rings are about 175,000 miles wide, from the innermost to the outermost edges. They vary in thickness from about 660 to 9,800 feet, averaging in at 3,200 feet. There are seven distinct rings made up of many minor ringlets. The major divisions are named simply “A” through “F.” The rings are made up of dust and ice particles ranging in size from a grain of sand to an average American house.
– No one knows how Saturn’s rings were formed. One theory suggests that the rings may have been created by a large moon, at least the size of the planet’s largest moon, Titan, colliding with the planet.
– Due to its low density and rapid rotation, Saturn is the “flattest” planet in our Solar System. Its diameter at the equator is about 8,000 miles greater (or nearly 10%) than its diameter from pole to pole.
– Saturn has at least 62 moons, 53 of which are officially named. In addition, there are hundreds of small moon-like satellites, informally called “moonlets,” within the planet’s rings. Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is the Solar System’s second largest moon after Jupiter’s Ganymede. It is larger than the planet Mercury and is the only moon in our Solar System with a “planet-like” atmosphere.
– Saturn is named after the Roman god Saturnus, the god of agriculture and the harvest. He corresponds with the Greek god Cronus, father of Zeus.
– The average temperature on Saturn ranges from about – 285° F on the surface of its gaseous layer to about – 20° F near the surface of its solid core. While that may sound cold, Saturn is actually warmer than it should be, given its distance from the Sun. That’s because the planet generates some of its own heat as the helium and hydrogen that make up its gaseous layer interact and create friction.
– Saturn is often visible to the naked eye, and its rings and larger moons can be seen with the help of a small telescope. It is best to look for Saturn when it is highest in the sky, so dust and other particles in the atmosphere don’t obscure it. This window of time varies from year to year, so consult the Farmers’ Almanac for best times to view.