Saturn, one of the most easily recognized planets in the solar system due to its huge ring system, is an intriguing place. The following are some fascinating facts about Saturn.
10 Facts About Saturn
1. Saturn Is Both Hot and Cold – Saturn is, on average, 900 million miles from the Sun, making it the sixth farthest planet out in the solar system. Because of this distance, the cloud tops of the planet’s thick atmosphere do not get much solar energy and are quite cold, at -285 degrees Fahrenheit. But the interior of the planet is much warmer, probably due to energy being generated by sinking helium. Saturn emits two and a half times as much heat as it receives from the sun.
2. Aurora on Saturn – Saturn experiences the aurora just as Earth does. Auroras are sometimes also called the Northern Lights (or Southern Lights, for those in the Southern Hemisphere). When solar plasma interacts with magnetic fields in the atmosphere of Saturn, particles become excited and emit light.
3. Saturn Can Be a Stormy Place – Besides magnetic storms/aurorae, spacecraft visiting Saturn have observed some strong storm systems, including one hurricane-like storm with an eye and a long-lasting hexagonal cloud formation.
4. Saturn Could Float on Water – It’s a fact often spouted about Saturn, but what does this mean? Saturn is the least dense of the planets. Considering its large size, one would expect it be more massive, or weigh more. But the planet is mostly gas (96% hydrogen) with a small rocky core.
5. There Are Thousands of Rings – Although Saturn has a handful of main ring systems, the entire system is actually composed of thousands of tiny rings. The rings themselves are made of billions of pieces of ice, rock, and dust.
6. Saturn’s Rings Occasionally “Disappear” – Saturn tilts in its orbit with respect to Earth. Therefore, sometimes Saturn shows a wide expanse of its rings, and sometimes the planet is tilted so that the rings are pointing directly at Earth. Because the ring system is extremely narrow, the rings can seem to disappear when they are aimed edge-on to Earth.
7. Its Moons Could Hold Life – Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is the only other body in the solar system besides Earth to have a substantial nitrogen atmosphere. It also has lakes, although these lakes are made of methane and not water. Its moon Enceladus also has a wet surface with icy geysers.
8. Shepherd Moons – Saturn has small moons that can be found near its giant ring system that keep the rings in line. Just as a shepherd tends to his flock by keeping the sheep in line and ushering them from one field to another, a shepherd moon influences the rocks and ice that make up Saturn’s ring system, its gravity helping to keep the particles from drifting out of line.
9. No One Discovered Saturn – Saturn is easy to see without binoculars or a telescope. When it is up in the sky, it looks just like a bright star. Its existence has been known by many different cultures for thousands of years, even though they haven’t always understood just what it is they were looking at.
10. Cassini Discovered Many Features of Saturn – Cassini’s name is often associated with Saturn. Giovanni Domenico Cassini was an Italian astronomer who discovered the division in Saturn’s rings that is now named after him. He also was the first to study four of Saturn’s moons. A spacecraft sent to explore Saturn was named after Cassini.