Saturn is the second biggest planet in the Solar System. Jupiter is the largest. Together, they hold over ninety percent of all planetary mass. Saturn is almost ten times the size of Earth and about ninety-five times the volume. The gas-based planet has .125 percent the average mass of the Blue Planet. It is the sixth furthest planet from the Sun. The name stems from the ancient Roman god Saturn. He is the god of agriculture, liberation, wealth and time. The Greek equivalent is Cronus (harvest god). The planet plays a role in several culture’s mythologies.
The Babylonian astronomers were the first to track and record Saturn’s orbit. The Greek philosopher, mathematician and astronomer Claudius Ptolemy (100 – 170 AD) logged his own observations. The Romans called it the star of Saturn. The ancient Greeks named it Phainon. Hindu astrologists called it Shani. It was known as the earth star in ancient Asian cultures and based on the Five Elements or Five Phases (Metal, Water, Wood, Earth, Fire). The Hebrew scientists used the name Shabbathai.
Helium and hydrogen are the main elements that make up the gas giant. There is no fixed surface, but Saturn could have a solid core. Its rotation has warped the planet into an oblate spheroid. The equator protrudes about ten percent further out than the poles. The other outer planets have similar characteristics (Neptune, Jupiter and Uranus). This causes a drop in surface gravity by the equator. Outside of its core, Saturn is around thirty percent less dense than water (only planet in the Solar System).
The pressure and temperature escalate the closer you move towards Saturn’s core. The hydrogen takes a metallic form in the lower layers. The core is like Jupiter’s and comprised of rock, encompassed with hydrogen and other trace elements. Scientists have hypothesized that it is over ten times the bulk of Earth. The breadth of the core is over fifteen thousand miles wide. The outermost portion is made of gas.
The inside of Saturn reaches temperatures over twenty-one thousand degrees Fahrenheit near the core. It radiates two to three times more energy than it collects from the Sun. Helium droplets progress through the hydrogen from the planet’s interior. Friction builds through the process and the outburst emits energy. The theoretical diamond rain happens during this event.
Saturn’s atmosphere has a volume of over ninety-six percent hydrogen. The rest is helium and a small number of other compounds (propane, phosphine, acetylene, ethane, methane and ammonia). The lower clouds are a mixture of water and ammonium hydrosulfide. The upper are ammonia crystal based. The Sun’s ultraviolet radiation induces methane Photodissociation or photolysis (chemical reaction that breaks down chemical compounds with photons) in the upper atmosphere.
Rings of Saturn
Planetary rings encircle Saturn. They are the most pronounced ring system in the Solar System and the planet’s most recognizable attribute. They emanate from the equator and are over sixty feet thick. Their extension ranges from four thousand to seventy-five thousand miles. The main components of the rings are ice, carbon and tholin (substance formed from ultraviolet radiation, methane and ethane). Ice makes up the majority. The components vary in size with a maximum width of thirty feet.
The origination of the planetary rings has two main theories. Residual nebular material from the formation of Saturn is one of them. The other hypothesis is that they are a result of a destroyed moon near the planet. The rings appear solid when viewed from a distance, but several divisions exist within them. They are aptly grouped by the letters of the alphabet (A Ring, B Ring, C Ring, D Ring, E Ring, F Ring and of course, G Ring). The densest rings are A and B. The Cassini Division separates them from the C Ring. The C Ring is thin and located inside the B Ring. The D Ring is even fainter than C and the innermost one. The outermost is the F Ring. The B Ring is the brightest. The other rings are jealous.
There are over eighty natural satellites that orbit around Saturn. Smaller satellites swirl within the moons. They are called moonlets and they are sensitive about their petite structure. The major moons are named Enceladus, Mimas, Tethys, Dione, Titan, Iapetus, Hyperion and Rhea. The first four make up the inner moons and orbit within the E Ring. The smallest is Mimas. Enceladus is a little bigger and has geological activity. It is the smallest known object in the Solar System with activity. The next largest is Tethys. There are impact craters and an extensive canyon system on the surface. Dione is the biggest of the inner and the fifteen largest natural satellite in the Solar System.
The outer major moons sit beyond the E ring. Titan is over three thousand miles in diameter and Saturn’s largest. It is the second grandest moon in the Solar System and around seventy-five percent the size of Mars. The next biggest is Rhea. Hyperion is located near Titan. It has an irregular shape and the appearance of a sponge. Soak that in. Iapetus is the furthest from Saturn and has a two-color toned surface. The mixture of light and dark are a crowd favorite.
Saturn can be seen from Earth with the naked eye. Four other planets can be viewed in this manner (Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Mercury). Most humans need a telescope or binoculars to see the rings. Every fifteen years the rings disappear from view when the Earth passes through their plane. The rings are best observed when the planet is near opposition with an elongation of one hundred and eighty degrees. Saturn…check it out!