Facts about Saturn

The planet Saturn is famous for the immense colorful rings that surround it.  We have been able to see these rings for centuries, making Saturn stand out from the other planets of our solar system.  Saturn’s image is a staple of several different science fiction TV series and movies, including the opening credit sequence of Star Trek:  the Next Generation.  However, there are a lot of fascinating things about Saturn that you might not know. Here’s a list of ten facts about Saturn for your enjoyment. As a bonus, you’ll learn some pop-culture trivia about the planet, things you might not have expected!

1. Saturn is the second largest planet in the Solar System, weighing 95 times more than our own planet. It has a diameter of 74,900 miles, making it 9.4 times the diameter of the Earth.  It’s also the sixth most distant planet from the Sun, located between Jupiter and Uranus.

2. Saturn is famous for its many colorful rings. They are primarily composed of ice (93% of the composition of the rings) and other particles of various shapes and sizes. There are literally thousands of rings around Saturn, but when viewed through lower powered telescopes Saturn appears to have three big rings separated by some dark gaps.

3. Saturn has sixty moons; forty-eight of Saturn’s moons have names. It has almost as many moons as the planet Jupiter, which is the largest planet in our solar system.

4. Saturn’s largest moon is called Titan. It is bigger than Earth’s moon and is the second largest moon in the Solar System (Jupiter’s moon Ganymede is the largest).

5. Titan is also unique among other moons in that it has a dense atmosphere, something that all other known moons lack. By contrast, Earth’s moon has absolutely no atmosphere at all.

6. Saturn is a “gas giant” like Jupiter, Uranus, and Nepture. The outer atmosphere of Saturn is over 93% hydrogen, with other gaseous elements making the bulk of Saturn’s atmosphere.  The “gas giants” are the largest planets in our solar system.

7. As Saturn is visible to the naked eye under certain conditions, it is impossible to say who actually “discovered” the planet. However, the astronomer Galileo is credited with being the first person to see (and therefore discover) Saturn’s rings in the early 1600’s, although his telescope was not powerful enough to show him they were rings. In fact, he originally thought Saturn was a three-part planet!

8. Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens was first to identify a ring around Saturn, several decades after Galileo’s discoveries.

9. Saturn has a “Great White Spot”. The “spot” is actually a grouping of storms on Saturn that can be seen by telescope from Earth. This is similar to the giant red spot of Jupiter.

10. Although Saturn’s “year” is 29.5 times longer than Earth’s, its day is much shorter. Saturn rotates every 10 hours, 39 minutes, less than half of Earth’s rotation time..

Bonus trivia:

11. The name Saturn has been used in comic books. Comic book titles that have referenced the planet include the graphic novel “Why I Hate Saturn” and the 1980s maxi-series “Jemm, Son of Saturn”. There is also a comic book superhero named Saturn Girl, who was born on Titan and who uses telepathy to read people’s minds.  She has an evil counterpart named Saturn Queen.

12. The Saturn brand of cars was not named after the planet Saturn. It was named after the powerful Saturn V booster rockets that allowed the Apollo missions to travel to the Moon.