Of the many interesting facts about Saturn, here are ten that prove to be quite interesting and full of information you may or may not have known. There are lots of facts about Saturn but these ten stand out the most. They give you a glimpse into the personality and history of the planet that we call Saturn.
Saturn is named after the Roman god of agriculture, Saturnus, who was tied to Rome’s Golden Age of peace and was believed to be one of seven Titans that ruled the universe. In Hindu astrology, Saturn is one of nine astrological objects and is known as Shani, who judges everyone based on the good and bad deeds performed in life.
Aside from the rings that dominate the presence of Saturn, there are 33 moons that we currently know of, that orbit the planet. Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, has intrigued scientists for years. Titan is the second largest moon in our solar system, and also is the only object other than Earth with evidence of surface liquid. Titan is fifty percent larger than the size of Earth’s moon. It is the sixth ellipsoidal moon from Saturn and was discovered in 1655 AD by the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens.
Saturn has proven to be the windiest planet in our system with wind speeds of up to 1,100 miles per hour. Storm systems much like those on Jupiter, but not as large, rage throughout Saturn’s atmosphere. One in particular was observed in 1996 and dissipated shortly after devastating the planet for over a week.
The top of the cloud layers on Saturn was reported to be approximately -218 degrees Fahrenheit. The major components of what makes up the atmosphere is 94% hydrogen and 6% helium. The clouds circle the planet in distinct bands that differ slightly from Jupiter. The widest are located toward the equator and the smallest are located toward the poles. Saturn’s interior is similar to Jupiter’s consisting of a rocky core, a liquid metallic hydrogen layer and a molecular hydrogen layer, traces of various ices are also present.
The seven rings of Saturn, made up of icy rocks and debris, are labeled A, B, C, D, E, F, G, in order of their discovery. Recently, the Cassini mission discovered a new class of moons that orbit within the rings. Which produce propeller-shaped gaps as if contorting the rings size, shape and height, creating mountain-like ranges bigger than the Himalayas on Earth. The particles that make up the rings range in size from specks of dust to the size of a small automobile. Some of the ice in the central rings comes from one of Saturn’s moons, known as Enceladus, who’s massive ice volcanoes spew ice into the structure of the rings.
Saturn’s elliptical orbit around the sun takes roughly thirty Earth years to complete. Each rotation of Saturn on it’s axis takes roughly ten and a half hours, which is the length of Saturn’s day. It is the sixth planet from the sun, and it’s orbital path is located between Jupiter and Neptune. The visible features on Saturn rotate at different rates depending on latitude.
Saturn’s magnetosphere produces magnetic fields one twentieth the strength of Jupiter’s magnetosphere. These unique magnetic bands that are generated from the north and south poles with it’s strength at the equator. The magnetosphere of Saturn is a thousand times larger than that of Earth.
Saturn is one of few planets in our solar system that can be seen with the naked-eye. Others include Venus, Mars, and Jupiter. Saturn is only visible without a telescope six months out of the year, usually from July to January, when Saturn’s orbit brings it close enough to Earth to be seen.
Galileo was the first to view Saturn through a telescope in 1610 AD, he classified it as an oddity and was predominantly confused by the planet’s unique structure. Since telescopes were not as powerful as they are today, Galileo’s first impression was that they looked like two moons on each side of the planet, it wasn’t until more powerful telescopes were invented that the rings were discovered in better detail.
The first satellite to fly-by Saturn and send back low resolution images was Pioneer 11 in September of 1979. The images consisted of Saturn’s cloud-tops and many of the moons that orbit the planet. The second and third fly-byes were by Voyager One and Voyager Two. In November 1980, Voyager One sent back the first high-resolution images of Saturn’s rings and moons. Voyager Two followed a year later in August of 1981 and sent back more detailed images of Saturn’s moons. Recently the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft took a four-year orbit around Saturn and sent back highly detailed images of it’s moons, rings, and planetary structure.
These are ten of some of the most interesting facts about Saturn and it’s amazing beauty, structure, and history. And from the Cassini-Huygens mission we will learn more about our cosmic neighbor Saturn, the sixth planet from the sun.
The Small Moons of Saturn
In 1977, when the two Voyager spacecrafts were launched from earth, the ringed planet was known to have nine moons. By the time that the data on board Voyager was studied in 1982, Saturn was known to have seventeen moons with an additional four to six satellites sharing the same orbital path. At present, Saturn has sixty-two moons, but the majority are so small and close to the planet, it is hard to know where to draw the line between moons and ring particles.
The Shepherding Moons
The inner-most of Saturn’s moons is Atlas (approximately 30 kilometers in diameter), which was named after one of the Titans of Greek mythology who was condemned to support the weight of the universe on his shoulders. Atlas is also informally known as the A Ring Shepherd Moon because of its role in shepherding the nearby outer A Ring particles and defining the outer edge of the ring.
The next two moons, Prometheus (86 kilometers) and Pandora (81 kilometers) are informally known as F Ring Shepherd Moons because of their positions on either side of the F Ring and their role in defining that ring. The two moons may also be responsible for the braiding observed in the F Ring.
Well beyond the F Ring, but inside of the G Ring, are Epimetheus (113 kilometers) and Janus (178 kilometers), which are the first of several groups or moons sharing the same orbital path. Epimetheus was named after the brother of Prometheus in Greek mythology while Janus was named after the two-faced Roman god of doorways.
Discovered in 1798 by German-born astronomer, William Herschel, Mimas (390 kilometers) is scarred by a massive impact crater (130 kilometers) named after its discoverer. This crater is centered precisely on the equator and has a diameter one third the diameter of Mimas itself. The walls of the crater Herschel average 4,876 meters, and a huge mountain at the crater’s center rises nearly 6,090 meters from the crater floor. Herschel is truly the standout feature on Mimas, as none of the other impact craters observed on the surface have anywhere near half its diameter.
Mimas’s surface is also scarred by valleys, which tend to run in a parallel pattern from southwest to northwest. These uniform valleys are generally 96 kilometers long, 1.6 kilometers deep and 9.6 kilometers wide. They are thought to be fracture zones which date from the impact which formed Herschel. Mimas is thought to be composed of 60 percent water ice with roughly 40 percent silicate rock, making it a ‘dirty snowball’ class of moon similar to the Galilean moons.
Also discovered by William Herschel in 1798 at the same time he identified Mimas, Enceladus (500 kilometers) is the most geologically active of Saturn’s moons. It was named after the giant who rebelled against the gods of Greek mythology and who was subsequently struck down and buried on Mount Etna. Like Mimas, Enceladus is composed mostly of water, with the remaining 40 percent of material being silicate rock.
However, Enceladus has a much more complex surface which is divided between vast and ancient fields of impact craters, large smooth plains and complex mountain ranges. The latter are typical of the type of fracture zones found on the surface of Ganymede or Uranus’s moon, Miranda.
These features, including ridges and valleys, were possibly formed by the same pressure between separate surface plates that was responsible for the silicate rock mountain ranges on earth and on Ganymede. The smooth plains on Enceladus are further evidence of fracture zones as they were possibly formed by liquid water swelling up from the interior and spilling out through fissures and faults, forming lakes. These lakes covered older fields of impact craters, and as the water froze, the lakes settled into the relatively smooth plains which we see today.