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The Planet Saturn

Updated on October 26, 2011


Discounting Earth, Saturn is arguably the most beautiful planet in our solar system, and definitely the most ringed. Saturn stands out like a golden beacon against the encroaching darkness. This wondrous planet and her unique qualities are explored on this page. Enjoy learning about the stunning planet Saturn.

Enchanting Saturn and her Rings

Enchanting Saturn and her Rings
Enchanting Saturn and her Rings

Some Basic Facts About the Planet Saturn

Saturn is the 6th planet from the Sun and the 2nd largest planet in our Solar System. Saturn is classified as a gas giant because of its size and composition. The exterior of Saturn is composed of hydrogen, a small amount of helium, and a few trace elements, while the interior is rock and ice. Saturn is also sometimes called one of the Jovian planets, after Jupiter. Saturn has extremely high winds that can reach up to 1800 km/h or 1118.47 mph, faster than those found on Jupiter. Saturn has over 60 moons, and the exact number is difficult to determine because the planet has so many small moon-like objects in orbit around it, and it's difficult for scientists to put a limit on size. Titan is Saturn's largest moon, the only moon with a significant atmosphere, and the second largest in our solar system. Saturn has an oblate shape, meaning it has somewhat flat poles and bulges in the middle.

Saturn is so big, you could fit 763.59 Earths inside it, and so buoyant that if you could find a body of water large enough, Saturn would float. It takes 10,759 Earth days (or about 29½ years) for Saturn to make one revolution around the Sun.

The NASA image above was taken by the Cassini spacecraft.

Great video about Saturn, her moons, and rings - Narrated by Patrick Stewart

Saturn's Composition

Scientists believe Saturn has a dense rocky core, a layer of liquid metallic hydrogen, a layer of liquid helium and hydrogen, and a vast exterior of hydrogen, helium, and trace elements like ammonia, acetylene, ethane, phosphine, and methane. Saturn's interior is extremely hot and it radiates more energy than it receives from the Sun.

Saturn has clouds made of ammonia crystals, with lower lying clouds that may be made of ammonium hydrosulfide or water.

The NASA image above was taken by the Cassini spacecraft and shows the thin line of the rings casting the large shadows on Saturn's surface. The tiny dot on the rings is Saturn's moon, Enceladus.

NASA image of Saturn's Lightning Storm taken by Cassini

NASA image of Saturn's Lightning Storm taken by Cassini
NASA image of Saturn's Lightning Storm taken by Cassini

Saturn's Storms and Auroras

Saturn has some of the unique features seen on Jupiter, like great storms and auroras. In 1990, Hubble showed a large white cloud near the equator of Saturn. Scientists say the storm is an example of the Great White Spot, and is a unique storm that appears only once every Saturnian year (or about every 29 1/2 Earth years). If the pattern continues, another large storm should appear in 2020. Saturn's storms produce a vast amount of lightning as pictured in the Cassini spacecraft image above. Saturn also has been host to hurricane-like storms with a clear eyewall, as was observed by Cassini in 2006. What makes this unique is the fact that this was the first time an eyewall cloud has been observed on a planet other than Earth.

Another phenomenon on Saturn is the Aurora. The image to the left of Saturn's polar aurora were taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope on January 24, 26, and 28. The auroras on Saturn are different than those seen on Jupiter and Earth. They do share some similarities though. For instance, they vary from day to day, and can lay still while the planet rotates beneath, like on Earth, but unlike those on Earth, the auroras can last for days, while on Earth they last mere minutes, and they can also rotate along with Saturn, like the ones on Jupiter, while Earth's are always stationary. Saturn's auroras are also much more affected by the Sun's magnetic field and solar winds, and not as much by the direction of the solar wind's magnetic field. Another difference between the auroras on Saturn and those on Jupiter and Earth is that when Saturn's auroras grow brighter and more powerful, they shrink in size. The auroras also become brighter on the day-night boundary, which is also the time that magnetic storms on Saturn intensifies.

The NASA image of the Aurora above was taken by the Cassini spacecraft using different wavelengths of infrared light. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Saturn's North Polar Hexagonal Cloud /Credit: NASA

Saturn's North Polar Hexagonal Cloud /Credit: NASA
Saturn's North Polar Hexagonal Cloud /Credit: NASA

Saturn's Hexagonal Phenomenon

In 1977, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were launched towards Saturn and Jupiter, and are currently far past Pluto. What is significant about these two spacecraft is that they observed a strange hexagonal cloud formation on Saturn's North polar region more than two decades ago. The Cassini spacecraft has also sent images of the same hexagonal formation, meaning that this unique phenomenon has been active for at least 27 years to date, and probably much, much longer. While the southern polar region of Saturn show the presence of a jet stream, and a hurricane-like eyewall was discovered in November 2006, the northen polar region shows this hexagonal wave pattern.

The straight sides of the hexagon are fairly equal, with each being about 13,800 km long (8574 miles), the hexagon itself is about 25,000 kilometers (15,000 miles) across, is about 100 kilometers (60 miles) below the cloud tops with a system of clouds within the formation, and makes one rotation in approximately 10.5 hours. It is hypothesized that Saturn's interior also rotates at the same speed as the hexagonal cloud formation.

Scientists are puzzled by the hexagonal clouds origin and pattern. Some believe it to be an unusual wave pattern brought about by Saturn's radio emissions, while others think it may be a unique form of an aurora, especially since Saturn's actual aurora appears over the hexagonal clouds. However, since the norther polar region of Saturn is slowly coming out of a 15 year winter, better images and data are being gathered by Hubble and Cassini, and many scientists now believe it is linked to neither Saturn's radio emissions nor its aurora.

The Mystery Hexagon on SATURN

Looking at Earth Through Saturn's Rings

Looking at Earth Through Saturn's Rings
Looking at Earth Through Saturn's Rings

The Rings of Saturn

Definitely the most ethereal object in our solar system is that of Saturn's rings. One may think that the photo above is some computer generated image by a fantasy artist, but it is an actual image taken by the Cassini spacecraft while on the other side of Saturn looking towards the Earth, and yes, that is actually the Earth and not a super-imposed image of it.

There are several theories as to the formation of the rings. One theory is that the rings were once part of a moon that moved too close to Saturn and was ripped apart by tidal forces, another is that a moon of Saturn was struck by a large comet or asteroid, which shattered the moon into bits. Another theory is the the rings are left over bits of material that formed Saturn.

With data gathered from the Voyager spacecrafts, and later, the Cassini spacecraft, it has been discovered that the rings of Saturn have their own atmosphere, separate from that of Saturn. The gravitational pull of the many moons of Saturn also have an effect on the rings, causing some of the rings to be intricate in nature. Saturn's rings also have unusual "spokes" running across some of the rings. The spokes are thought to be microscopic dust particles that are electrically charged, and that electromagnetic forces are at work here, but the exact reason is unknown. The spokes seem to be seasonal and appear only when the planet nears its equinox. The NASA Voyager image above taken in 1981, shows the spokes that run across the rings, represented by the dark colorations, as well as large bits debris and ice orbiting Saturn along with the rings.

Saturn's Moons

Saturn's Moons
Saturn's Moons

Saturn has an indeterminate number of moons because it has many small objects in orbit, and it is difficult to tell which should be categorized as a moon. Some of these moons are less than 6 miles in diameter. Saturn's largest moon is Titan and is the only moon in the solar system to have a dense atmosphere, and Saturn's second largest moon Rhea, may also have a delicate ring system. Saturn's moons Titan and Rhea are discussed in detail along with Iapetus, Dione, Tethys, and Enceladus

on the Major Moons of Saturn.

Do you find Saturn as Enchanting as I do?

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    • mythphile profile image

      Ellen Brundige 4 years ago from California

      Saturn's so interesting. I can't wait for Cassini to get better views of the hexagon in the next few years.

      It's such fun when people see Saturn through a telescope for the first time. They always say, "Wow, it looks just like a photo!" I have a wee Televue, so all you can see are the rings and the planet at very small size, no details, but even that is enough to astound people.

    • profile image

      hamshi5433 6 years ago

      Saturn looks so pretty in pictures and videos man wonder how it looks real life...All your works are neatly presented and looks more readable. :)

    • Blackspaniel1 profile image

      Blackspaniel1 6 years ago

      Nice to see the hexagon, a recent discovery, included. Nice, current lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Correction of Formation Saturn Planet


      I want to describe formation of Saturn planet and comets. The formation of the planet is made due to there is present anomaly of the planet density. Density of the planet less than density of water make me to do some correction about the right formation of the planet.

      This description not only to make sure the formation of Saturn planet, also for the others giant planet, such as Mars and comets. The description of comets which its also has odd characteristic of formation. I am sure, comets are planets too, they have bodies like Pluto planet. The formation can be seen if the comets close to sun or the longest distance from the sun. In addition, this description give picture about the great red spot from the movement and changing on Jupiter planet.

      To consider my limited knowledge in astronomy field, I want to some critic for the description of the planet has a good idea for all of us.

      Yours sincerely

      Muchsin Faisol Effendie

      East Java, INDONESIA; Perum GSP G14 Bayeman Lumajang 67312

      Correlation between radius and mass

      Planets, satellites, and comets are a part of our solar system. They have certain mass, radius and volume. The correlation between radius and mass, we should make the equation :

      m power a = r power b or m^a = r^b

      The equation above can be made to become :

      a log m = b log r or b / a = log m / log r

      The correlation of radius and mass of the solar system can be this table :

      Venus: r = 2.4773; m = 14.8181; log m / log r = 2.971

      Earth : r = 2.6109; m = 18.1818; log m / log r = 3.022

      SUM (log m / log r) = 2.971 + 3.022 = 5.993

      AVERAGE = 2.996

      *) Venus and Earth are planets, which radius and mass of Mercury = 1

      Average 2.996977 or 3.00, therefore comparison between square power of radius with mass is three compared one. To make clear the comparison can be showed correlation between radius and mass.

      From table above can be concluded that the mass equal with the radius power three. Can be written :

      m = r power three

      Formation of Saturn Planet

      Saturn planet has a beautiful ring and include in giant planet. This planet has density 0.7 and diameter 141,000 kilometers. By using a rule above can be calculated that radius of Saturn planet .

      Mass of Saturn, m = 95.26 (Earth = 1)

      Then radius of Saturn ( r )

      = 95.26^(1/3)

      = 4.567 ( Earth = 1 )

      = 29,129.35

      = 30,000 kilometers

      Thus Saturn planet has diameter 60,000 kilometers or radius 30,000 kilometers and density 5.2 ( water = 1 ). I thought that the planet from iron or stone like Earth.

      Do you agree ?

      Density anomaly in the giant planets will be news that is spectacular in the future. And if this law received the astronomical community will replace the theory that explains that the comet is ice balls that orbit the sun. It will also back up again the planet-formation where the giant planet's radius is now a combination of the radius and height of the atmosphere is actually the planet.

      If the formula is accepted astronomical community, it will undermine the Whippleâs theory

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      anonymous 7 years ago

      i really like the way u put together your pictures in this document. I actually looked up the keywords. Satern's energy and so far this is the best resource iv'e used about tis topic. Thanks a bunch!

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      julieannbrady 8 years ago

      This is such a remarkable planet -- It is truly a miracle to see such a creation of the universe.

    • DougP LM profile image

      DougP LM 8 years ago

      An excellent presentation, thank you!

    • broker1 lm profile image

      broker1 lm 8 years ago

      Wow, you are just amazing. I am inspired by you.

      Your lenses make me think of what life is really about.

      Thank you very much for all that you have done!

      I am going to try to read everyone.

      Please keep it going...

    • profile image

      3dMooNMaN 8 years ago

      and yet another wonderful lens !