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Saturn: the Second Largest Planet in Our Solar System

Saturn is the second largest planet in the Solar System after Jupiter. Learn more about the planet and its rings here.

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Saturn is the second-largest planet in the solar system. It is a gaseous planet, but scientists believe that is has a solid core. Saturn is about 9.4 times the size of earth but its density is one-eighth that of our planet. It is surrounded by nine continuous rings and three arcs. 

Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar seem but Earth is the densest. Saturn is the second-largest, but it is the least dense, in fact, Saturn can float on a pool large enough to accommodate it. The equatorial circumference is 227,349 miles, about nine times that of the Earth. Saturn is about a third the mass of Jupiter and 80% its size.

How Did Saturn Get Its Name?

Saturn is named after Saturnus, the Roman god of agriculture and harvest. The roman Saturnus is equal to the Greek god Kronos. Ancient astronomers observed that some stars were moving compared to others and named them planetes asters (wandering stars). Initially, the Greek astronomers believed that the sun, the moon, and these planets orbited planet Earth. In 1960, Galileo Galilei observed that Saturn had rings although he first thought that they were moons orbiting close to Saturn, in 1655 Christiaan Huygens used a powerful telescope to finalize that indeed they were rings.

How Many Moons Does Saturn Have?

Planet Earth has one moon that was formed after a rogue planetesimal, Theia, collided with the Earth resulting in the dispersion of materials that later merged to form the moon. Saturn, on the other hand, has sixty-two moons. Researchers believe that some of the moons were formed in the same way the Earth's moon was formed while others strayed into Saturn's gravitational area and were captured. Of the 62 moon, 53 have definite orbits and have been named. Titan is Saturn's largest moon and is larger than Mars, and a large percentage of its atmosphere is consists of nitrogen just like the Earth.

How Many Rings Does Saturn Have?

Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune all have rings. The rings of Jupiter are made of dust and are therefore faint. They cannot be seen from Earth unless with a very powerful telescope. They were discovered in 1979 by the Voyager 1 spacecraft. The rings of Uranus formed about 600 million years ago from what is believed to be a collision with its moons. Voyager II discovered the rings of Neptune in 1989, the six rings are faint and made of organic compounds. The rings of Saturn are the only rings visible from Earth. There are four major groups of rings and three less obvious groups of rings. They were first observed by Galileo and were later confirmed as rings by Christiaan Huygens in 1655. The rings are made of particles consisting of frozen water contaminated by dust and chemicals.

Can You See Saturn With the Naked Eye?

Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are the five brightest planets and are visible from the Earth. Saturn is the most distant of the five planets but is the second largest after Jupiter. As from 2017, Saturn will be visible from the Earth from dusk until dawn because the Earth is directly between the Sun and Saturn, it will remain visible until November 2017. The event occurs yearly and offers an opportunity to view the planet with a naked eye for those who cannot afford telescopes.

Have Spacecrafts Ever Visited Saturn?

NASA has only sent four space crafts to investigate Saturn. Three of the four spacecrafts were not destined for the planet and were just flybys. In 1979, Pioneer 11 flew 20,000 km from Saturn. In 1980 Voyager 1 also flew by the planet, and in 1981 Voyager 2 also made a flyby. The only spacecraft destined for Saturn was the Cassini’s that went into Saturn’s orbit in 2004 and photographed the planet, its rings, and moons.

What is the Average Temperature on Saturn?

The Earth is 92.96 million miles from the sun, Saturn is approximately 888.2 million miles from the same sun. The mean temperature of the planet is -185 degrees Celsius. The lowest temperature recorded on the Earth's surface is −89.2 °C reported in the Soviet Vostok Station in Antarctica. The planet’s core is approximately 10 to 20 times the mass of Earth, and its temperature is approximately 11,700 degree C and is responsible for much of the heat generated by the planet.

How Fast Are Saturn's Winds?

The winds of Neptune are the fastest in the solar system; they move at 1,500 miles per hour whipping clouds of frozen methane in the atmosphere. The winds speed in Neptune can be compared to the U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet. The wind speed in Saturn can reach 1000 miles per hour. The highest wind speed on Earth reached 256 miles per hour during Tropical Cyclone Cynthia in 1996. The winds of Neptune and Uranus blow in layers which are about 600 miles deep.

Saturn: Gas Giant

The first four planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars,) are rocky planets. They have a rocky core and a rocky surface. The next two (Jupiter and Saturn) are gas giants. They are thought to have rocky cores. The remaining to planets (Uranus and Neptune) are ice giants. Saturn is made up of 94% hydrogen, 6% helium, methane, and ammonia. Hydrogen and helium are the main components of stars including our sun. The planet is less dense, and researchers believe that it would likely float on large enough pool.

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