Categories: Solar System

The Planet Saturn

*Saturn is named after the Roman god of fertility and agriculture, whose Greek equivalent was Cronos, the god of time.

*It is the second biggest planet in the solar system after Jupiter, and is around 10 times the size of the Earth. Just like many of the outer planets it takes longer to orbit the sun, in Saturn’s case 29.5 Earth years.

*Saturn spins so quickly on its axis that an average day on the planet would last just 10 hours and 32 minutes. It also causes the planet’s shape to become visibly flattened at the poles (108,728km) and bulging at the equator (120,536); an almost 10% disparity.

*Saturn has a small solid core  probably composed of iron, nickel and rock surrounded by metallic hydrogen. The planet’s atmosphere consists of around 75% hydrogen and 25% helium, while Saturn has a white ammonia haze covering the whole planet making it appear pale yellow in colour.

*Saturn’s huge extending rings are made of rocky debris and ice particles but are less than a kilometer thick. The planet also has 60 discovered moons and hundreds of “moonlets” embedded within its rings, with most of the moons named after characters from Greek mythology, such as Pan, Pandora, Telesto, Calypso, Dione, Helene, Rhea and Phoebe.

*Saturn’s largest moon is named Titan. In Greek Mythology, the Titans were the siblings of Cronos (Saturn), who ruled the Earth before being overthrown by Zeus and the Olympians. Seventeen of the planet’s moons are named after these mythological giants including Prometheus, Atlas, Mimas, Enceladus, Tethys, Hyperion, and Lapetus.

*In 1979, Pioneer 11 flew within 20,000 km of Saturn but it wasn’t until 2004 that a the Cassini spacecraft actually went into orbit around planet and captured photographs of its rings and moons.

*Saturn is one of the 5 planets visible with the naked eye, but for astronomy purposes a good set of binoculars of 25x is the minimum requirement for viewing Saturn and its yellow colour. A small reflector (2″) or 60mm refractor telescope will reveal the faintest glimpse of the ring of Saturn, whereas a medium sized telescope (4.5″ or 80mm) will clearly show the Cassini division, the shadow left on the planet’s surface by its rings and four or five of its moons.

Peter Christoforou :