Planetary Facts about Saturn

Saturn is the second largest planet in the solar system. It is the sixth planet from the sun and lies between Jupiter and Uranus.

The rings of Saturn are probably its most well known feature, but they are certainly not the only interesting things about the planet.

Saturn has 52 known moons or satelites. There are most likely many more that are yet to be discovered. Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, is roughly the size of Mercury.

Saturn has a huge magnetic field. While it is not as big as that of Jupiter, it is an amazing 578 times as powerful as that of Earth’s.

Much like the planet Jupiter, Saturn has no solid rock surfaces such as the ones found on Earth and Mars. It is essentially a gas giant. It is made up of mostly hydrogen and helium. The volume of Saturn is 755 times that of the planet Earth. The winds in the upper atmosphere of Saturn can reach a speed of 1600 feet per second in the region of the equator. By comparison the fastest hurricane force winds on Earth only reach a speed of around 360 feet per second. When combined with the heat of the planet these superfast winds create the yellow and gold bands that are visible on Saturn.

In 1610, Galileo first discovered the rings around Saturn. He thought they were two masses because his telescope was not strong enough to show the distinctions. Forty five years later, in 1655, Christiaan Huygens used a more developed telescope to identify the masses as a single flat ring. Only twenty years later, in 1675, Gian Domenico Cassini determined that the rings around Saturn were in fact multiple rings with gaps between them. Because of this, the largest gap between the rings was named after him. It is known as the Cassini Gap or Division. This shows justs how much the telescope improved in the years between 1610 and 1675.

It was assumed for many years that there were probably three or four large rings around Saturn. When the probe Voyager visited Saturn it was then discovered that there are actually thousands of tiny rings that make up seven distinct sections of rings that circle Saturn at the equator. This meant that the facts that had been known about Saturn in the past were incorrect.

From the innermost point to the outside edge of the ring system of Saturn, the ring system is over 170,000 miles wide. Even with such a great width the rings are very thin, being only around 330 feet thick on average. No one knows how or when the rings could have developed. Some experts believe that the rings may consist of debris from exploded comets, meteors or asteroids.