Now we’ll take a trip to the second gas giant and sixth planet in the solar system — Saturn. This planet might be well-known for its elaborate rings, but there is a lot more about this massive gas giant that you might’ve missed out on. Here are 10 facts about Saturn you need to know.
10 Interesting Facts About Saturn
Dive into this set of planet Saturn facts and find out more about this extraordinary planet:
1. Saturn Can Float in Water
If you can find a body of water big enough, Saturn would float in it! This big gas giant is less dense than water, so while you won’t fit it in your bathtub, it could theoretically float on water.
2. Saturn Isn’t Round
Saturn spins incredibly fast. One day on the planet only takes about 10 hours. That speed also causes the planet to flatten slightly, so it’s not round like most other celestial bodies in our solar system. If you squish a soccer ball so it deforms a little, you’ll have a good idea of what Saturn looks like.
3. Saturn Has Had Four Visitors Since We Started Launching Probes
We’ve sent four spacecraft to take a peek at the ringed giant. The first was Pioneer 11, which NASA launched in 1973 to take advantage of a rare outer planetary alignment that let us study the big gas giants. Then we had flybys from Voyager I and II. Most recently, we’ve also had the Cassini-Huygens mission that orbited Saturn from 2004 to 2017 before burning up in the giant’s atmosphere.
4. The Age of Saturn’s Rings Is Unknown
Saturn’s rings might date back to the solar system’s origins some 4.5 billion years ago — or they might be a lot younger. Some astronomers theorize that the planet got its rings when Saturn’s gravity ripped apart a massive ice moon. We’re not sure where the rings came from.
5. Saturn Can Be Seen With the Naked Eye
Saturn is the last planet you can spot with the naked eye. You’ll need a telescope or an incredible zoom lens to see its iconic rings, but you can see the planet’s glow at night without the aid of anything.
6. Saturn’s Moons May Have Life
Life as we know it couldn’t survive on Saturn, but we might find it somewhere else. Saturn’s moon — Enceladus — might provide the right conditions for life to survive outside our home planet.
7. Jupiter and Saturn Together Make up Most of the Solar System
Jupiter and Saturn are both massive gas giants. Together, they make up 92% of the planetary mass in our solar system. If you add the other two gas giants — Neptune and Uranus — you’ve got 99.5% of the solar system’s planetary mass. The four inner planets make up barely half a percent.
8. Saturn Has an Incredibly Hot Core
Saturn might not have a surface, but it does have a rocky core that reaches incredible temperatures. The molten metal at the core can reach temperatures of more than 15,000 degrees F, hotter than the sun’s surface.
9. Saturn Has Some of the Fastest Winds in the Solar System
Saturn’s atmosphere and incredibly fast rotation allow for the creation of some of the fastest winds in the solar system. In the upper atmosphere, Saturn’s winds can reach 1,800 kilometers per hour (km/h) or 1,118 miles per hour (mph). For comparison, the Atlantic Ocean’s strongest hurricane only generated winds that moved at about 190 mph.
10. Saturn — And Other Gas Giants — May Rain Diamonds
Chemists believe the unique balance of hydrogen and helium on Saturn may cause it to rain diamonds big enough for Hollywood stars to wear. Eventually, they melt as they sink toward the core, but there might be diamonds falling from the sky on these gas giants.
Saturn Properties & Information
- Location in solar system: 6th Planet from the sun, 2nd outer planet.
- Distance from Sun: 9.58 astronomical units (AU) or 1,426,666,422 kilometers (km).
- Composition: Primarily hydrogen and helium.
- Size: 120,536 km (74,897.6 miles).
- Surface: No true surface.
- Structure: Gas giant, dense iron and nickel core.
- Color: Various, from black and white to red, green and blue.
- Atmosphere: 75% hydrogen and 25% helium with traces of other elements.
- Moons: 82
- Temperature: Minus 139 degrees C (or minus 218.2 degrees F).
- Orbital period: 29.5 years.
- Rotation period: 10 hours, 42 minutes.
Who Discovered Saturn?
As one of the planets you can see with the naked eye, it is challenging determining who may have first discovered Saturn. Galileo gets the credit for the first official observation of Saturn in 1610, but his telescope was fairly crude compared to today’s standards. He could see the planet’s rings but couldn’t figure out what they were.
Decades later, a Dutch astronomer named Christiaan Huygens used a more advanced telescope to finally determine that Saturn had rings in 1659. This astronomer also lent his name to the Cassini-Huygen mission that spent years orbiting Saturn.
What Is Saturn Known For?
Saturn is most commonly known for its extensive collection of rings. The Cassini probe provided us with high-resolution photos of the rings before the machine’s fiery demise in 2017. The rings aren’t solid. They’re made up of millions of fragments of stone and ice trapped in orbit around the gas giant. The planet is also known for its incredibly short day, completing a rotational period in just 10 hours and 42 minutes.
On the flip side, the planet’s orbital period is substantially longer than Earth’s. One year on Saturn is equal to 29.5 years on Earth — so if you haven’t reached your 30th birthday here, you’re still less than a year old on Saturn.
What Makes Saturn Unique?
One thing about Saturn that makes it incredibly unique is its density. Despite its massive size, Saturn is less dense than water. You won’t find a pool big enough to float the planet, though. It’s also so huge that you could fit 760 planets the size of Earth inside it with room to spare, though it only has as much mass as 95 of our little blue marbles.
Saturn gets its name from the Roman god of the harvest. The Greek equivalent of this name would be Cronus, the titan father of the Greek gods who devoured his children at birth to prevent them from overthrowing him.
All About Saturn
Next, we have a planet named for Saturn’s father that has also become the butt of many jokes over the years — Uranus. Our journey through the solar system’s known planets is nearly complete, but we’re not done yet.
What fact about Saturn did you enjoy learning? Let us know in the comments below!
Featured Image Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (GSFC), M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley) and the OPAL Team