Saturn
saturn eclipse of the sun
Spectacular image of the Planet Saturn eclipsing the Sun
Planet Saturn Facts
  • Saturn is the sixth planet from the sun and the second largest in the solar system.
  • The planet is around 10 times bigger than Earth with a diameter of 74,900 miles (120,540 km).
  • It orbits the sun at an average distance of 886 million miles (1.4 billion km).
  • Saturn is a gas giant composed almost entirely of hydrogen and helium but may possibly have a small rocky core.
  • Due to enormous pressure hydrogen exists as layers of liquid and metallic liquid below the thick atmosphere of Saturn.
  • Saturn has seven main separate rings around it which are made from ice and dust particles.
  • Its main rings extend outwards for over 200,000 km, yet their thickness ranges from around only 5 to 15 meters.
  • It is believed Saturn's rings will eventually disperse and be drawn into the planet.
  • Winds in Saturn's upper atmosphere can reach over 1,000 miles (1,600 km) per hour.
  • Saturn has the lowest density of any planet in the solar system, so much so that it would float in water.

saturn clouds
Saturn's banded atmosphere
saturn clouds
A highly unusual hexagonal shaped vortex situated at Saturn's northern pole
Saturn's Atmosphere
Saturn's atmosphere is composed of 96.3% hydrogen and 3.25% helium with the remaining half percent made up of trace elements. Unfortunately Saturn's atmosphere doesn't match its spectacular ring system, unlike its neighbor Jupiter its cloud cover is rather bland in comparison. Like Jupiter Saturn's upper atmosphere forms into bands but they are much fainter and larger than those found on Jupiter.
Saturn does possess one atmospheric feature that even Jupiter would be jealous of, a bizarre hexagonal shaped vortex at its northern pole. The vortex is around 30,000 km across which is more than twice the diameter of Earth. At the center of the vortex is a huge storm which has possibly existed for centuries, it is believed that the unusual haxagonal shape surrounding the storm is created by currents of air.
Saturn's Orbit
Saturn takes almost 30 years to make one complete orbit of the sun and rotates on its own axis every 10 hours 39 minutes compared to 24 hours on Earth, only Jupiter rotates faster.
Saturn's Temperature
The temperature at Saturn's upper atmosphere average around -175C (-285F). The temperature below the clouds gets considerably hotter. Saturn's core has a temperature of around 11,700C (21,000F).

Moons
Saturn has 62 moons, 25 of which have a diameter of at least 6 miles (10 km), the most interesting of these are Titan and Enceladus.
Largest Moons of Saturn
Name: Titan
Diameter: 5150 km
Mass: 1.8 x Earth Moon
Orbit: 1.2 million km
Orbit Period: 16 days

Titan is the largest of Saturn's moons and the second largest in the entire solar system. It is also the only moon in the solar system to possess a significant atmosphere and the only body apart from Earth with large areas of liquid on its surface.

Name: Rhea
Diameter: 1528 km
Mass: 0.03 x Earth Moon
Orbit: 850,000 km
Orbit Period: 4.5 days

Rhea is the second largest of Saturn's moons and the ninth largest in the solar system. It is mostly composed of water ice which explains its extremely low mass, like our moon Rhea is tidally locked, meaning the same side is always facing Saturn.

Name: Iapetus
Diameter: 1470 km
Mass: 0.025 x Earth Moon
Orbit: 3.6 million km
Orbit Period: 79 days

Iapetus is the third largest of Saturn's moons. Like Rhea it is mostly composed of water ice and is also tidally locked. Iapetus is notable for its striking differences in color, one side of the moon is extremely bright while the other is darker brown.

Origin of Name
The Romans named the planet Saturnas after their god of agriculture.
Life on Saturn
Scientists doubt that any form of life could exist on Saturn.

The Rings of Saturn

Close up of Saturn's rings
Natural color image of Saturn's rings
The rings of Saturn are the most spectacular sight in the solar system and have fascinated astronomers for centuries. Science has not yet discovered how they formed but it is believed they are made up of debris from an asteroid or comet colliding with one of Saturn’s moons. They are mostly composed of ice with smaller amounts of dust and other particles.

They were named alphabetically in the order they were discovered and differ in thickness and width. Working outward from the planet the main innermost rings are D,C.B,A and F. The B ring is the biggest and brightest with an estimated thickness of around 10 meters and a width of 16,000 miles (25,000 km). There are also fainter outer rings G and E and the most recently discovered Phoebe ring, which lies 8 million miles (15 million km) from the planet. It is thought to be composed of debris from one of Saturn’s moons, Phoebe.

There are also gaps in the rings, the biggest of which is called the Cassini Division, named after the Italian astronomer Giovanni Cassini, the gap is almost 5,000 miles (8,000 km) wide. It was through one of these gaps that the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft had to navigate as it approached Saturn. Scientists at NASA held their breath but fortunately it managed to pass through successfully and continue its mission.

Saturn Rotation

Missions to Saturn
Cassini-Huygens
cassini-huygens Launch: October 1997
Arrival: July 2004
Agency: NASA/ESA (Europe)
Summary: Cassini-Huygens is still in orbit around Saturn as part of its extended mission to study the planet and its moons. The craft sends back new images every day as well as studying the space environment of the Saturnian System.
Voyager 1 and 2
Voyager 2 Launch: August-September 1977
Arrival: August 1980-June 1981
Agency: NASA
Summary: Voyager 1 and 2 made successful flybys of Saturn discovering the intricate structure of the ring system as well as sending back new information about its atmosphere and magnetic field. Between them they took around 32,000 images of the planet.
Pioneer 11
Ganymede from Pioneer 10 Launch: April 1973
Arrival: September 1979
Agency: NASA
Summary: Made a successful flyby of Saturn studying its magnetic field, atmosphere and sending back pictures of the planet.

Moons orbiting Saturn
Moons orbiting Saturn
Planet Saturn Statistics

Diameter: 74,900 miles (120,540 km)
Average Distance from Sun: 886 million miles (1.4 billion km)
Orbital Period: 29.4 years
Rotation Period: 10.66 hours

Maximum Temperatures: 11,700C (21,000F) (Core)
Minimum Temperatures: -178C (-288F) (Cloud Tops)

Gravity: 10.4 m/s2 (1.06 x Earth's Gravity)
Density: 0.7 g/cm3 (12.7% Earth's Density)
Mass: 5.6851 x 1026 kg (95 x Earth's Mass)
Volume: 8.2713 x 1014 km3 (764 x Earth's Volume)

Atmosphere: 96% Hydrogen, 3% Helium, 0.4% Methane, 0.01% Ammonia, 0.01% Hydrogen deuteride, 0.0007% Ethane.

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