Astronomy

Facts about Saturn



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Saturn - Iconic. Jewel of the solar system. Lord of the Rings. It was named after the Roman god Saturnus, who in turn was named after the Greek agricultural god Cronos. Many have speculated and fantasized about what this beautiful gas giant might be like through the ages but the facts about Saturn are just as fascinating!

Saturn is the second largest planet in the solar system and it is the sixth planet from the sun. It is 95 times the size of the earth, it has 48 known moons and one Saturn day is equal to 10.6 earth days. Saturn spins so fast that it flattens itself slightly. It isn't a circular sphere like the other planets but an oblate spheroid because of it's slightly flattened look. It has seven regions of rings and together these rings span about 173,000 miles in diameter. This is wider than 21 earths side by side.

From where we stand, Saturn looks like a serene place because of its ultra-smooth exterior but in actuality it is a furious, violent mass of energy! Far from being a protective and watchful lord of agriculture, Saturn is an extremely hostile place; a frigid ball of gas and full of massively dynamic energy! It also has no surface. One of the many interesting things about Saturn is that even though it's storms make the ones we see on earth pale in comparison the planet is made of lighter elements than those of the earth but is able to generate such energy. In fact, density is so light on Saturn that the planet is less dense than water. If there were a cosmic or interstellar ocean that existed vast enough to hold it, Saturn would float like a huge beach ball!

Another remarkable thing about Saturn is its rings. They are separated into regions: A, B, C, D, E, F and G. They are extremely wide but only measure to about 65ft thick in height. So in comparison to their width the rings are paper thin. The rings are made up of rock and ice. Some pieces are as small as sand grains while others are as big as houses and these rings spin at around 20,000 - 40,000 mph. Scientists give two theories on how these rings formed. The first one tells us that they are made up of one of Saturn's early moons that fell too close within its gravitational field. The second is that a large cosmic object collided with one of its moons and the debris from the resulting collision fell into its gravitational field. It is also interesting to note that the E ring is formed and sustained by the jets of ice coming from geysers on one of the nearby shepherd moons Enceladus.

The A region is sizable but almost transparent and reflects a lot of sunlight. The B region is very dense. C is even more transparent than A and D is barely visible. The rings reflect so much light, especially the A region, that they produce an effect called Ring Shine. In fact if you were on the surface of one of Saturn's moons this ring shine effect would be brighter than a full moon on the earth. They shine brilliantly like this because they are made up of rock and ice and ice reflects light. Even though these rings make Saturn stand out as the top beauty of the solar system, one day scientists say that these rings will disappear. Saturn's rings are far bigger than Neptune's and Uranus's rings which means that they aren't as old. Neptune's and Uranus's rings have almost disappeared ino the planets' gravity wells. One of the reasons why they stay in place, even though being so massive, is because Saturn's has shepherd moons that help keep the rings in place.

Dynamism - There is a south pole storm that behaves like a hurricane on Saturn and it measures around 5000 miles long! It's odd to scientists that Saturn has such powerful storms because it has so little internal energy and heat of its own! It gets almost no heat from the sun. The Voyager and Cassini probes found a persistent hexagonal feature on the planet's north pole. It's been there for at least 20 years. No one knows what this hexagonal shape is to this day or what it represents. As far as storms, lightening storms bigger than the US in size happen on Saturn. Thick swaddling bands of clouds raining sulfuric acid scream and race in terrible storms on Saturn. In fact, there is a specific region on the planet that is similar to storm alley in that storms come through this area regularly. If we are to explore this planet further and unveil its secrets we would have to look to its moons for exploration. There is no feasible way to land a space craft on Saturn since it has no surface and the storms are too incredibly violent. But even from there we could learn much more about the planet Saturn and all of its quirks and oddities.

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