The Ringed Gas Giant: Saturn

Saturn Compared to Earth

Although all four gas giant planets have rings made of ice and rocks, Saturn has the most spectacular rings. There are seven rings in total and the largest ring is up to 200 times the planet’s diameter. However, although the rings extend thousands of miles from the planet, they are only about 30 feet thick.

One day on Saturn last 10.7 hours and it takes the planet 29 Earth years to orbit the Sun. It is the farthest planet from the Sun that can be seen with the naked eye.

Saturn is a gas giant made up of mostly hydrogen and helium and does not have a solid surface. Although Saturn cannot sustain any life, some of its 62 moons might be able to support life. Most of the moons are named after Titans in Greek mythology because Saturn itself is named after Cronus, the lord of the Titans.

Saturn’s moons are all very different. Titan is the largest of Saturn’s moons and is slightly larger than Mercury. Pan and Atlas are shaped like flying saucers. One half of Iapetus is bright like snow while the other half is dark. Enceladus as 101 geysers at the southern pole that spew water and other chemicals. And others like Prometheus and Pandora interact with the rings to keep them in their orbits.

In 1979, Pioneer 11 was the first spacecraft to reach Saturn and flew within 13,700 miles of it. In doing so, it discovered the planet’s two outermost rings. The Cassini spacecraft is currently in orbit around Saturn and has returned incredible data on the planet and its moons over the last decade of observation.

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