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Illustrated Guide to Astronomy

Saturn


Saturn is the second largest planet in the solar system and the sixth planet away from the Sun. It is the second of the gas giants, named after the Roman god of agriculture and wealth. Saturn is most recognizable for its beautiful rings made of ice and rock.

Saturn
Saturn

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Saturn is most famous for its ringlets made of ice and rocks. Other planets, like Jupiter, also have rings, but none as impressive as Saturn’s. The rings are 273,600 km wide and are extremely thin for Saturn’s size. Saturn is the furthest planet from Earth that can easily be seen with the naked eye and has been observed for thousands of years. The rings were first observed by Galileo in 1610, although he mistakenly thought they were two moons on either side of the planet. The rings were first correctly identified by Christiaan Huygens. It is named after the Roman god of agriculture and wealth, Saturnus. In Greece the planet is known as Cronos.

Saturn is another planet which is known as a gas giant due to its size and composition. It is made up of mostly hydrogen and helium, like Jupiter. As a gas giant, the planet has no surface. Saturn is the only planet in our solar system that is less dense than water. This means Saturn would float on an ocean (if we could find one big enough!). It has a radius about nine times that of Earth. Its pale straw color comes from frozen ammonia it its upper atmosphere.Saturn has many moons, one of which is the solar system’s second largest moon, Titan. It is slightly larger than the planet Mercury, although its mass is smaller. This moon was first discovered by Chistiaan Huygens in 1655. Titan is the only known moon that has a substantial atmosphere.

The first time a spacecraft flew past Saturn was in 1971 when Pioneer 11 went past 20,000 km from the edge of Saturn’s atmosphere. In 2004, the Cassini-Huygens space probe was the first spacecraft to go into orbit around Saturn. The space probe was made of two parts: Cassini, which was an orbiter and Huygens, which was a lander. Huygens departed from Cassini and landed on Saturn’s moon Titan in 2005, making this the first spacecraft landing in the outer atmosphere.

Saturn Facts

  • Orbital Period: 10,747 Earth days
  • Length of a Day: 10.7 hours
  • Diameter: 120,536 km
  • Distance from the Sun: 1,443,500,000 km
  • Strength of Gravity: 9 N/kg
  • Number of Moons: 62
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