Saturn - Known Facts

About Saturn, what scientific facts are known including trivia about the orbit, surface, and more.


Known Facts: Through a telescope, the most striking feature of Saturn is its rings, first described by the Dutch astronomer Huygens in 1659 and thought to be unique in the solar system until the recent discovery that Uranus also possesses this trait. The four thin rings, composed of mostly small particles moving independently, lie in the plane of the planet's equator and extend from 46,000 mi. to 85,000 mi. from the planet's center. As Saturn moves around the sun, the rings are seen from Earth to vary from maximum oblique position to edgewise, when they virtually disappear from sight.

Saturn has, in addition to the rings, 10 satellites large enough to be observed. The most interesting of these is Titan, about the same size as the planet Mercury. It is the only satellite in the solar system known to have an appreciable atmosphere, which consists mostly of methane. Titan's bitter cold allows it to retain its atmosphere.

Saturn, its equatorial diameter of 75,100 mi. about 10% more than its polar diameter, is second only to Jupiter in size, but the preponderance of light gases gives it the lowest average density of any planet in the system. It is light enough to float in water. Like Jupiter, it is slightly flattened with a banded, cloudy structure, although the colors are less vivid and the details are less distinct. Small light spots occasionally appear in the equatorial regions.

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