8 Amazing Facts About Saturn

Just as my previous article on facts about Jupiter, today I am going to state some amazing facts about Saturn.

Saturn is the second-largest planet in our solar system. It has always fascinated the scientists for its properties such as a prominent ring system. In fact, Saturn is like the blue-eyed baby of not only the scientists but even the budding young astronomers. I got a hint of this fact when a student of mine always used to talk about the eminence and beauty of this ringed planet. I could feel the excitement in the voice of this young boy while talking about his favorite planet-Saturn. He even showed me the glorious images of Saturn taken by the Cassini spacecraft. Sometimes Saturn is also referred to as " The Jewel of the Solar System". In this article, I have tried to summarize the most amazing facts about Saturn.

Saturn approaching northern summer (Image taken by Cassini)

8. Least dense planet of our solar system

We cannot stand on Saturn. Unlike Earth, it is mostly made of gases. The major portion of these gases is Helium which is lighter than air. The density of Saturn is even lesser than water. Hence, it will float on the surface if put in a sufficiently large pool of water.

7. Saturn's rings are not solid

The rings of Saturn are mostly made up of lumps of dust, ice, and rock. Some of these are as tiny as grains of sand, whereas some are as tall as a building. These rings are extremely huge but thin. The main rings could almost go from Earth to the moon. But their thickness is less than a kilometer.

Also Read: The stunning pictures of Saturn taken by Cassini space probe

Facts about Saturn
A "surge"-glowing spot on Saturn's rings which occurs when the sun is directly behind the observer looking toward the rings. Credit: NASA

6. Saturn has 62 moons

Saturn has the second largest number of moons, only after Jupiter that has 67 discovered moons. Some of Saturn's moons are extremely large. In fact, Titan is the second-largest moon in the Solar System. First astronomers thought that Saturn's rings may be moons. Only after 1655, the Dutch astronomer Christian Huygens used a better telescope and realized them as rings. The Huygens mission which is a part of the larger Cassini-Huygens mission, is named after him.

5. SOmetimes the rings of Saturn disappear

This is one of the most mysterious facts about Saturn. Saturn’s axis is tilted. From our perspective, we see Saturn’s changing position as it revolves around the Sun. Sometimes, we find the rings in all their glory, but other times it looks like that they have just disappeared. Earlier, this disappearance of rings was observed in 2008-2009 and it will happen again in 2024-2025. So, the glorious rings of Saturn don’t actually disappear, but they look like they are fading away.

Facts about Saturn
Images of Saturn indicating appearance and disappearance of rings with time

4. Saturn is one of the planets visible by the unaided eye

It is another fact about Saturn that it is one of the five planets that are visible to us in the night sky. However, we need to use a telescope if we wish to distinctly see the rings and the ball of this planet.

Also Read: 10 interesting facts about Cassini Huygens mission, one of the most successful mission of NASA.

3. Saturn spins very fast on its axis.

With high-resolution measurements, astronomers now agree on an average day of 10 hours, 32 minutes and 35 seconds on Saturn. It is interesting to note that determining the speed of Saturn was a cumbersome task as it does not have a solid surface like moon. So, we can't measure in what time can a crater on Saturn return back to view. Astronomers had to measure the rotation of the planet's magnetic field to determine the rotational speed of Saturn.

2. Saturday is named after Saturn

Saturday is the only day of the week that has retained its Roman origin. It is named after the Roman God and planet Saturn. Saturn is the Roman God of agriculture and is believed to have ruled Earth during an age of happiness and virtue. In Indian mythology, Saturn is the lord of justice, called 'Shani'.

1. There could be life near Saturn

Facts about Saturn
Water vapor geysers on Enceladus. Credit: NASA/JPL

This is one of the most interesting facts about Saturn that has personally amazed me. Saturn itself cannot support life. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft recently discovered ice geysers blasting out of the south pole of one of the Saturn's moon -Enceladus. And wherever we find liquid water on Earth, we find life. Hence, there could be life near Saturn.

It is amazing that this ringed planet is so far away from the Sun that it completes its rotation around the Sun in 29 Earth years. Yet, this planet is visited only four times by spacecrafts and still doesn't cease to amaze the astronomers. Its beautiful rings certainly add to its charm. And I won't shy away from accepting that after writing this article, Saturn has become my favorite planet too.

Also Read: All the 30 articles of Basics of Astrophysics series

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