Top 10 Interesting Facts About Saturn

The planet Saturn is famous for its amazingly beautiful ring system, the largest of which is easily visible even in a small telescope. However, beyond those lovely rings, most people know very little about this fascinating planet. Below are some of the most interesting facts about ‘The Jewel of The Solar System.’

1. Saturn Is Not the Only Planet With Rings

 

Few people realize that while Saturn’s rings are the most famous, this planet is not alone with its system of rings. The planets Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune have small ring systems, but for the most part, they are not visible from earth even with the largest telescopes.

Also, there are three main rings around the planet of Saturn. The gap that is between the first two rings is known as the Cassini Division, and is visible in small telescopes on Earth. The gap between the outer rings is known as the Encke Division and is very hard to see in any but the largest telescopes on Earth. The Voyager spacecraft in its close pass to the planet showed there also are four more very faint rings that we cannot see from Earth.

The rings of this beautiful planet span more than 200,000 miles in diameter, but amazingly, are less than one mile thick. Even though the rings are very impressive, in reality there is not that much material there. If they were compressed into one solid object, they would only be about 80 miles across.

2. Saturn Would Float In a Pool Of Water

 

 

True, it would have to be one big body of water, but if it were possible, Saturn would float. It is the least dense planet in the solar system. The planet is made up of about 3/4 hydrogen and about 1/4 helium. The rest includes traces of water, ammonia, methane and rock of some kind. Most of the planet actually is made of gas, and it has a very small rocky interior. Earth and Mercury, on the other hand, are mostly solid and would sink the quickest if they could be put in a pool of water.

3. Pioneer 11 Was Saturn’s First Visitor from Earth

 

Pioneer 11 left Earth in 1973 and it flew by Saturn in 1979 and returned the first close up pictures of the ringed planet to Earth. Voyager 1 and 2 also made fly-bys in 1980. Both the Pioneer and one of the Voyager spacecraft are still in operation today, billions of miles from Earth. Pioneer as of 2012 was still functioning but its signal was becoming very weak as its power supply was dwindling. It is expected that the spacecraft will fall silent in the next few years.

These spacecraft gave us the best views of the planet of all time. Even though the close ups allowed us to see the rings the best, we still do not know what caused the rings to form. The rings have probably been there for millions of years, but the ring system is not a stable system and the rubble that makes them up must be replenished over time. It is possible that the rings formed when larger satellites of the planet collided and broke up.

4. Saturn Is the Windiest Planet

 

Winds on this planet can reach up to 1,100 mph, which is several hundred miles per hour faster than on Jupiter. In comparison, our strongest tornadoes on Earth barely reach 300 mph.

 

5. Saturn Rotates At 6,200 Miles Per Hour

 

Saturn’s rotation is so fast that the planet will actually bulge out at the equator and the poles are a bit flat. Saturn is the flattest planet in our solar system. Only Jupiter rotates faster. It actually is possible to see in a small telescope that both Saturn and Jupiter are not completely round discs, and seem to be a bit flat at the poles.

 

6. Saturn Has a Moon With an Atmosphere

 

The largest moon around Saturn is Titan, and it is the only moon in the solar system that has a significant atmosphere. The atmosphere on this moon is 370 miles in depth, which is 10x more than our atmosphere.

As of 2010, there are 53 satellites that are orbiting the ringed planet. Only a few of them are visible in telescopes on earth. Nine of them were discovered only in recent years but have not yet been named.

 

7. People May Have Known About Saturn’s Rings in Ancient Times

 

History states that Saturn’s rings were not discovered until the 1600s, but it is possible that some ancient cultures may have been familiar with them. New Zealand’s Maori always referred to the planet as Parearau, which means ‘surrounded by a headband.’

 

8. Traveling By Car to Saturn….Would Be a Long Car Trip

 

If we could take a car to Saturn at 70 mph, it would take a mere 1292 years to get there when the planet is the closest to our planet. Even a spacecraft from Earth traveling at thousands of miles per hour takes at least 3-4 years to reach Saturn.

 

9. The Pressure on Saturn Would Crush Any Spacecraft

 

Saturn’s atmospheric pressure is 100 times more than ours. This pressure is so intense that any gas is actually crushed into liquid. It would of course destroy any spacecraft as well. It is very unlikely that any life could exist on any gaseous planet such as Saturn or Jupiter, given the great pressures that occur in the atmosphere.

 

10. Saturn Releases More Heat Than It Gets From Our Sun

 

Saturn actually releases double the amount of heat it receives. It is not for certain why this is the case. Scientists think that the planet creates heat when helium on the planet sinks through the liquid hydrogen deep in the interior of Saturn.

The picture above is how Saturn often looks in backyard telescopes. Without a telescope, the planet can be viewed with the naked eye. It is not as bright as Jupiter, but you can very easily see that it is a planet because it does not twinkle as a star does. Even a very small telescope from a department store can see the basic ring structure of Saturn.

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