Visible to the unaided eye, Saturn is the sixth planet from Sun. Though there are many amazing celestial sights to see on any given night, Saturn is a Cosmic marvel. It is often considered the most beautiful planet in the Solar System because of its golden hue and visually mesmerizing rings. Read on to discover some interesting Saturn facts.
Facts about Saturn
1. Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun.
At its closest (perihelion), Saturn is 1.36 billion km (845 million miles) from the Sun. At its furthest (aphelion), Saturn is just over 1.5 billion km (935 million miles) from the Sun.
2. It takes 79.3 minutes (1 hour 19 minutes and 18 seconds) for the Sun’s light to reach Saturn.
In comparison, it takes 499 seconds (8 minutes and 19 seconds) for the Sun’s light to reach Earth.
3. Saturn is the second biggest planet in our Solar System and is nine times wider than Earth.
With a mean diameter of 116,464 km (72,367 miles), Saturn is the second-biggest planet in the Solar System behind Jupiter. Compared to Earth, Saturn is 9.1 times wider.
Furthermore, Saturn has a mass that’s roughly equivalent to 95.16 times the mass of Earth.
4. Saturn is one of the two so-called “gas giants.”
Along with its immediate neighbor Jupiter, Saturn has been classified as one of the two “gas giants.” A gas giant is a large planet that is not primarily composed of rock or other solid matter. Rather, the majority of its mass is in the form of gases like helium and hydrogen around a small rocky or metallic core.
Unlike terrestrial planets, which have a clearly defined difference between atmosphere and surface, gas giants do not have a well-defined surface as their atmospheres gradually increase in pressure toward the core.
As such, Saturn doesn’t have a true surface and it isn’t possible to “land on” such planets. By volume, Saturn is composed of 96.3% Hydrogen and 3.25% Helium with trace amounts of ammonia and methane.
However, the use of the word “gas” is somewhat of a misnomer. As a result of the enormous pressures inside Saturn, the majority of helium and hydrogen exists in liquid rather than gaseous form. The pressure is so strong that it would crush and vaporize any human-made spacecraft.
5. Saturn is the least dense of all the planets and is the only one less dense than water.
One of the more interesting facts about Saturn is that it is the only planet that’s less dense than water. Saturn has a mean density of 687 kg/m3, which makes it about 31% less dense than water (1,000 kg/m3). Just for comparison, Earth, the densest planet in the Solar System, has a density of 5,514 kg/m3.
Why is Saturn’s density so low? The answer lies in Saturn’s composition. Saturn is mainly composed of hydrogen and helium. Thus, due to its predominantly gaseous composition, Saturn has the lowest density in comparison to the other planets in our Solar System.
Saturn being less dense than water leads to the question – Can Saturn float on water? In theory, Saturn could float on water, but in reality, it would not. A large chunk of Saturn’s outer volume is filled with molecular hydrogen and helium.
If you did drop Saturn in a body of water the gas in its atmosphere its rocky core would probably sink while the rest of its atmosphere would spread out over the surface of the water. So, given its present atmospheric composition, Saturn wouldn’t be able to float on water.
6. You could fit 763 Earths inside Saturn and still have room to spare.
The volume of Saturn is 8.2713×1014 km3. To be precise, you could fit 763.59 Earths inside Saturn!
7. Saturn has the second-shortest day of all the planets in the Solar System.
A day is defined as the amount of time it takes an astronomical object to complete one full spin on its axis. On its axis, Saturn rotates at a speed of 9.87 km/s, which is very fast, especially considering how large Saturn is.
In comparison, the Earth only rotates at a speed of 0.46 km/s. Saturn’s rapid spinning speed means that the length of a day on Saturn is 10.56 hrs or 10 hours, 33 minutes, and 38 seconds. Only Jupiter has a shorter day than Saturn.
8. Saturn is the flattest planet in our Solar System.
One of the most unique Saturn facts is how much of an oblate spheroid it is. A variety of factors influence a planet’s flatness is such as size, density, and spin, with lower density and faster spin causing a planetary bulge at the equator.
Saturn’s extremely low density (687 kg/m3) and fast rotational velocity (9.87 km/s) are the main reason why it has the greatest equatorial bulge of all planets. Although all planets exhibit a certain degree of ellipticity (flattening), Saturn’s equatorial diameter is almost 10% greater than its polar diameter.
Saturn’s equatorial bulge is 11,808 km (7,337 miles). In comparison, the Earth has a slight equatorial bulge of 42.72 km (26.5 miles), its equatorial diameter being about 0.3% greater than its polar diameter.
Taking into consideration the size difference between the two, Saturn is still over 29 times more oblate than Earth!
9. Saturn orbits the sun every 29 Earth years.
While Saturn rotates way faster than Earth on its axis, its orbital velocity is much slower (9.7 km/s as opposed to 29.8 km/s of Earth’s). In fact, Saturn has the third-slowest orbital velocity of all the planets in the Solar System.
Its torpidity means it takes Saturn a whopping 29.46 Earth years, or 10,759 Earth days, to make one trip around the Sun.
Saturn’s slow movement against the backdrop of stars earned it the nickname of “Lubadsagush” from the ancient Assyrians. The name means “oldest of the old.”
10. Saturn is named after the Roman god of wealth and agriculture.
In Roman mythology, Saturn is the father of Jupiter, the king of the gods. The Greek counterpart of Saturn is Cronus.
11. The day Saturday is named after the planet Saturn.
The Romans named Saturday, Sāturni diēs (“Saturn’s Day”), for the planet Saturn.
12. Saturn emits more energy than it absorbs from the Sun.
Like the other Jovian planets (except Uranus), Saturn emits more energy than it absorbs from the Sun. It’s been proposed that Saturn’s internal heat (nearly twice the amount of heat it receives from the Sun) comes from the precipitation of helium into its metallic hydrogen core.
As the heavier helium at a higher level drizzles down through the surrounding lighter hydrogen, the helium converts some of its energy to heat. This is similar to the way raindrops on Earth become a tad warmer when they fall and strike the ground.
13. Nobody knows who first discovered Saturn.
If you’re wondering who discovered Saturn, the problem is nobody really knows. No one can take credit for “discovering” Saturn because Saturn is the furthest planet easily visible to the naked eye and has been known since antiquity.
14. Galileo Galilei was the first person to see Saturn through a telescope.
The Italian astronomer and polymath Galileo Galilei was the first to gaze at Saturn through a telescope in 1610. Galileo was also the one who discovered Saturn’s rings.
Unfortunately, Galileo’s telescope wasn’t advanced enough for him to figure out what the rings were and he thought Saturn was tripled-bodied.
15. Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens was the first to deduce that Saturn was a ringed planet.
Although Galileo was the first to observe Saturn’s rings, he didn’t know what they were. They appeared to him as “ears” or large moons on either side of the planet.
Thus, they remained a mystery until 1655 when the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens (also known for inventing the pendulum clock), hypothesized that the “ears” of Saturn were actually a flat, solid, unattached ring surrounding Saturn.
16. The wind speeds on Saturn can reach 1800 km/h (1120 mph) and are the second-fastest among the Solar System’s planets.
Though not the windiest planet in the Solar System (that honor belongs to Neptune), Saturn experiences terrifying winds within its upper atmosphere that can reach up to 1800 km/h (1120 mph).
17. Saturn’s magnetic field is almost perfectly axissymetric.
Saturn is also unique among the planets in our Solar System because, unlike other planets, with their off-axis fields, its magnetic field is almost perfectly symmetrical with its rotation axis, meaning that the field is highly axisymmetric.
The reason why Saturn’s magnetic field is an oddity is that it was thought for a planet to generate a magnetic field, there must be a discernible tilt between its rotation axis and its magnetic field axis.
For instance, the Earth’s geographic North Pole is located in the high Arctic Ocean where lines of longitude (meridians) converge. However, the Earth’s magnetic north pole is not a fixed point and changes over time in response to changes in the Earth’s magnetic core.
The reasons behind Saturn’s weird disobedience to this rule is a mystery but recent findings suggest that a thick layer of helium rain influences the planet`s magnetic field.
18. Saturn has a huge, persistent, hexagonal (six-shaped) storm at its North Pole, with a hurricane at the center.
Saturn’s turbulent hexagon-shaped storm has been raging for decades or even centuries. The six-sided figure spans an estimated 29,000 km (18,000 mi) in diameter and extends for 100 km (60 miles) into the gas giant’s atmosphere.
The relentless hurricane in the middle of the hexagon is constantly blasted by a jet stream of air at 322 km/h (200 mph). The storm has been known to change color, from blue to gold, and each point in the hexagon rotates at its center at almost the same rate Saturn rotates on its axis.
It is believed that this hexagon shape is caused by friction with the slower clouds on either side of it, creating eddies that push the jet stream into a wave-like shape as it rotates.
Oddly, no similarly shaped storm exists at Saturn’s South Pole, though a storm vortex has been observed there. No similar storm is known to exist anywhere in the Solar System.
19. Only four spacecraft have flown by, or around, Saturn.
To date, only four spacecraft have ever visited Saturn. The first was Pioneer 11, in 1979, which flew within 20,000 km of Saturn. Voyager 1 flew by in 1980 and Voyager 2 in 1981.
In 2004, the Cassini spacecraft was the first to go into Saturn’s orbit and spent 13 years studying the planet, sending back a wealth of data about Saturn, its moons, and rings.
20. Saturn is the planet with the most moons in the Solar System.
Saturn has the most number of moons. So far, 82 moons of Saturn have been discovered. Out of these, 53 are officially named and 29 are provisional moons.
Provisional moons are those that haven’t been assigned a proper name and aren’t considered “real” moons until their discoveries are confirmed by additional observations.
21. Saturn’s largest moon Titan is bigger than the planet Mercury and is the only known natural satellite with a substantial atmosphere.
Titan is the largest moon of Saturn. It is the second-largest moon in the Solar System (after Jupiter’s Ganymede). With a diameter of 5,150 km (3,200 miles), Titan is even larger than the planet Mercury, but only 40% as massive.
What’s really special about Titan is that it is the only moon in the solar system with a dense, planet-like atmosphere that is 50 percent thicker than Earth’s. Its atmosphere is 98% nitrogen and 2% methane, which is similar to Earth’s atmosphere in its ancient days.
Despite being a natural satellite of a gaseous planet, Titan is arguably the most “Earth-like” place in the Solar System we know of. It experiences a water cycle and is chock-full of mountains, plains, valleys, dunes, craters, lakes (filled with liquid methane rather than water), and even a subsurface ocean filled with salty water.
22. Saturn’s ring system is the most extensive and complex in the solar system.
Though Saturn isn’t the only planet with rings, its glittering ring system is the most extensive in the Solar System. The beautiful rings of Saturn are so large and bright that we can see them with a small telescope.
23. Saturn’s rings are made primarily of ice and dust particles.
While the bright ring system around Saturn may look solid, the rings are composed almost exclusively of pure water ice and trace amounts of dust and rock from passing comets and asteroids The innumerable chunky ice particles vary in size from as small as a speck of dust to as large as a house.
24. Saturn’s rings are divided into ring groups.
The rings of Saturn are divided into eight main, named ring groups. The rings are identified by letters that were allocated in the order in which they were discovered.
Starting at Saturn and moving outward their order is D, C, B, A, F, G, E, and the outermost Phoebe Ring. Each primary ring group consists of thousands of smaller rings, called ringlets.
The ring groups are separated by gaps, caused by the gravitational pull of Saturn’s moons. The largest gap, the Cassini Division, is 4,700 km (2,900 miles) wide.
25. Saturn’s outermost ring covers an area of the sky that’s 7,000 times larger than Saturn itself.
Saturn’s outermost Phoebe Ring, the largest planetary ring in the Solar System, is so ridiculously large that it extends 16 million km (10 million miles) from Saturn into space.
The Phoebe Ring is so immense in size that if Saturn was the size of a basketball, the ring would extend around two-thirds of the length of a football field away from it.
The Phoebe Ring is difficult to detect in visible light, but it can be clearly seen as a ghostly halo at infrared wavelengths.
26. The rings of Saturn are flat and incredibly thin.
While Saturn’s rings are enormously wide, they’re very thin. The rings of Saturn have a typical thickness of 10–20 m (33–66 ft) but can reach a thickness of up to 1 km (0.6 miles).
27. Exactly how and when Saturn’s rings formed remains uncertain.
A popular theory about how Saturn’s rings formed postulates that one of Saturn’s moons moved in towards Saturn and broke up when it crossed the Roche limit (the minimum distance to which a large satellite can approach its primary body without being torn apart by tidal forces), forming a ring around the planet.
There’s also no consensus in the scientific community as to how old Saturn’s rings are. Some researchers believe they were likely to have formed early in the Solar System’s history over 4.5 billion years ago.
On the other side, researchers argue that Saturn’s rings are too clean and sparkling bright to be so old and assert they have formed less than 100 million years ago.