Saturn has always been of great interest because of its rings and its size, both of which make it one of the most visible planets. In fact, it was the most distant planet known to have been observed by ancient astronomers. There are many factors that make this giant planet both unique and fascinating.
1. In 1610, the Italian astronomer, Galileo, was the first to view Saturn through a telescope. Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens, in 1659, was the first to offer the proposal that Saturn was surrounded by a flat ring.
2. Saturn is the sixth planet from the sun in our solar system. While it is known by various names in different cultures, it was originally named for the Roman god of agriculture.
3. Saturn is the second largest planet. In fact, it is nearly 10 times the size of earth. It has an equatorial diameter of 119, 300 kilometers, and its volume is 755 times greater than Earth’s.
4. Saturn is one of the Jovian, or gas planets. These planets have no solid surface, and are composed primarily of hydrogen and helium.
5. Saturn has the most spectacular rings of any of the planets, mostly composed of ice and rock. It is assumed that the debris in the rings of Saturn are parts of comets, asteroids, or even moons that have been destroyed by coming in contact with this giant. Particles in the rings can range in size anywhere from tiny dust like specks to objects as big as mountains.
6. Saturn has at least eighteen moons. The largest moon, Titan, is the second largest moon in the solar system, and bigger than the planet Mercury. It has an atmosphere that is rich in nitrogen, and may very well be close in composition to Earth in its earliest form. All of Saturn’s moons are very distinct in their characteristics.
7. Saturn is over 9.5 times further from the sun than the earth, at a distance of 885,904,700 miles.
8. Assuming that the planet actually had a solid surface, living conditions would be less than appealing. The average temperature on the planet is approximately -288 degrees F. Winds in the upper atmosphere may reach speeds of 500 m per second.
9. The rotation period of Saturn is 0.045 times that of Earth. One Earth day on Saturn would equal 10.856 hours.
10. The distance from the sun and the period of revolution means that one Earth year would take around 30 years on Saturn.
Thanks to the spacecraft, Cassini, which was launched in 1997, more and more information is being recorded both about the planet and its moons.
“Planets: Saturn.” Solar System Exploration. Web. 15 Feb. 2011. <http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/profile.cfm?Object=Saturn>.