18 Incredible Facts about the Moon King (Saturn)

| Saturn Facts Table |

Mass (1024 kg ): 


568

Volume (1012 km^3): 


827.1

Equatorial Diameter (km):


120,536

Polar Diameter (km):


108,728

Age of the Planet: 


4.5 billion years

Number of Moons: 


82

Surface Temperature Range : 


(-185 °C ~ -122 °C)

Average Surface Temperature: 


-140 °C

Gravity (m/s2):


9.0

Day Length (hours):


10.7

Average Distance from Sun (106 km):


1,433.5

Closest Distance to Sun (Perihelion) (106 km):


1,352.6

Furthest Distance from Sun (Aphelion) (106 km):


1,514.5

Orbit Length: 


9,008 million km

Orbiting velocity (km/h):


34,920

Time to Orbit the Sun (Orbital Period): 


29.4 Earth's year

Actual Color: 


Shades of Yellow, Brown and Grey

Appearance Color: 


Shades of Yellow, Brown and Grey

Atmosphere Thickness:


Thick

Axial Tilt Angle (degrees):


26.73

Time for Sunlight to the planet:

79 minutes and 18 seconds

Magnetic field:

Exist

Ring system: 


Exist

Number of Ring system's groups: 


7 groups
Saturn Planet
Credit:NASA

Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second largest planet in the solar system after Jupiter. It is categorized as a “gas giant” as it is primarily composed of hydrogen and helium – the same elements that form the Sun.

Saturn is the keeper of the most intense, mysterious, spectacular, and undeniably most well-renowned ring system in the entire solar system. It has seven groups of rings that begin at around 175,000 miles (282,000 km) from the planet’s surface. Saturn’s complex ring system includes portions of comets, asteroids, and even shattered moons.

Not only does Saturn enjoy “wowing” scientists and space enthusiasts alike with its stunning ring system, but this gas giant also likes to break records. After a recent discovery of 20 new moons which orbit the planet, Saturn has become the “king of moons” as it hosts the largest number of moons among all the planets in the solar system.

Read on, space explorer, to discover the most fascinating facts and mysteries about one of the solar system’s spectacular planets: Saturn.

1. Saturn is the only planet in the solar system that has an average density that is less than water.

If Saturn were to be placed on a body of water, it would float on its surface due to its incredibly low density. The density of water is 997 kg/m3 while the density of Saturn is 687 kg/m3.

Why is Saturn’s density so astoundingly low?  The answer lies in Saturn’s composition. Saturn is mainly made of hydrogen and helium. Thus, due to this gaseous composition, Saturn has the lowest density when compared with all of the other planets in our solar system.

2. Recently, Saturn has become the “moon king” hosting a total of 82 moons.

Scientists have recently discovered 20 new moons orbiting the ringed planet (Saturn) beyond the previously discovered 62 moons. The discovery of these new moons not only gave us a better understanding of Saturn, but also bequeathed Saturn with a new identity. Besides being the notorious owner of a spectacular ring system, Saturn, with its 82 moons, now has the largest number of discovered moons among the planets with 3 more moons than its neighbor (Jupiter), making Saturn the “moon king.”

3. Some of Saturn’s moons could support life.

Enceladus moon
Enceladus moon by NASA
Titan Moon
Titan Moon by NASA

Saturn is an unwelcoming place with unsuitable conditions for life: it exerts extreme pressure and temperatures that can crush, melt, and vaporize any spacecraft that were to venture into its atmosphere. However, some of Saturn’s moons, including Enceladus and Titan, could possibly be much more welcoming to visitors. It has been discovered that these moons host internal oceans that could potentially support life. [1]

4. Saturn is nine times wider than Earth.

Saturn’s diameter almost equals 116,500 km, which is 9.17 times wider than Earth (which has a diameter of 12,700 km).

5. Saturn orbits the Sun once every 29.4 Earth years.

Due to its distance from the Sun (nearly equaling 1,434 million km on average) combined with its relatively low orbital velocity (equaling 9.7 km/s), Saturn completes an orbit around the Sun once every 29.4 Earth years.

6. Saturn has the second shortest day among the planets in our solar system.

It is Jupiter that experiences the shortest day when compared with all of the other planets in the solar system. Saturn comes in second place, completing a full spin around its axis (a full spin/rotation being equal to one day) once every 10 hours and 42 minutes.

7. Saturn’s magnetic field is 578 times more powerful than Earth’s magnetic field.

Saturn's magnetosphere
Saturn's magnetosphere by NASA

After Jupiter, Saturn has the second strongest magnetic field in our solar system. Saturn’s magnetic field is around 578 times more powerful than that of Earth’s. Its magnetic field is strong enough to attract swarms of electrically charged particles and accelerate them to ultimately energize them to reach a very high level of energy. This process ultimately results in intense radiation. 

Curious about learning more? Check out “How do magnetic fields protect planets from harmful space radiation?

8. Spacecrafts can’t land on Saturn.

Saturn is a gas giant planet, and thus has a surface that is almost entirely made up of swirling gases and liquids. As Saturn doesn’t have a true physical surface, it would be impossible for a spacecraft to land upon it. It is not just the surface of Saturn that is off-limits to spacecraft: pressure and temperatures produced deep inside the planet are so extreme that they can crush, melt, and vaporize spacecraft that were to fly into Saturn’s atmosphere.

9. Saturn is the farthest planet to have been discovered by the human eye.

10. Saturn has the most extensive ring system in the solar system.

Saturn's ring
Saturn's ring by NASA

Saturn is distinguished by its ring system, which was discovered by Galileo in 1610. It spans a distance of more than 282,000 km, when measured from the surface of Saturn. Scientists propose that Saturn’s rings include portions of comets, asteroids, and even shattered moons that broke up before eventually reaching the planet and being drawn in by its gravitational pull. Its rings include billions of different-sized particles ranging from tiny dust-sized grains to mountain-sized objects.

11. Saturn has 7 groups of rings: A, B, C, D, E, F, and G.

Saturn’s ring system includes 7 groups of rings that orbit Saturn at different speeds. These groups were named alphabetically in accordance with the order of their discovery from A-G. Ring groups A and B are separated by a gap that equals 4,700 km and is called the Cassini division.

If we were to reorder the ring systems starting with the system that is closest to Saturn and moving outward,  while also taking into consideration the Cassini division, the list would be D ring, C ring, B ring, Cassini division, A ring, F ring, G ring, and finally, E ring.

12. Saturn is losing its iconic rings at the maximum rate possible.

New NASA research reveals that Saturn is losing its rings at a maximum rate. NASA suggests that the reason behind this fast rate of ring loss is that Saturn’s rings are being pulled inward by gravity as a dusty rain of ice particles under the influence of Saturn’s magnetic field. [2]

The following video produced by NASA exhibits Saturn’s rings loss phenomenon:

 

13. Saturn experiences seasonal changes like Earth.

Saturn’s axis is tilted at an angle of 26.73 degrees, which is almost the same as Earth’s axial tilt (23.5 degrees).

14. Saturn’s gravitational force is also nearly equivalent to that of Earth.

Gravity on Saturn equals 9.0 m/s2, which is very close to gravity on Earth (9.8 m/s2).

To give you an idea of just how similar this is, if you weighed 100 kg on Earth, you would weigh around 91.8 kg on Saturn.

15. Sunlight requires an average of 79 minutes and 18 seconds to reach Saturn.

The planet of Saturn is located 1,433.5 million km away, on average, from the Sun. As light moves at a speed of around 0.3 million km/s, sunlight needs an average of 4,759 seconds (79 minutes and 18 Seconds) to reach Saturn’s surface.

– At Perihelion (where Saturn is at its closest position relative to the Sun), the distance between the Sun and Saturn equals 1352.6 million km, which means that sunlight requires 4,512 seconds (75 minutes and 12 seconds) to reach Saturn’s surface.

– At Aphelion (where Jupiter is at its farthest position relative to the Sun), the distance between the Sun and Jupiter equals 1514.5 million km, which means that sunlight requires 5,052 seconds (84 minutes and 12 seconds) to reach Saturn’s surface.

In a nutshell, sunlight requires a relatively long time to reach Saturn’s surface; taking between 75 minutes 12 seconds to 84 minutes and 12 seconds depending on the planet’s position relative to the Sun. On the other hand, it only takes an average of 8 minutes and 20 seconds for sunlight to reach the surface of our home planet: Earth.

16. Saturn is visible to the naked eye.

Saturn is one of the five bright planets that can be seen in the Night Sky (the complete list includes Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter). Interested in catching a glimpse of the “moon king”? The best upcoming dates to view Saturn from Earth are as follows:

  1.    July 20, 2020, and August 2, 2020 (Saturn at opposition): This will be the best time to view Saturn as well as some of its moons as it will be at its closest proximity to Earth. Saturn at opposition will be fully illuminated by the Sun and visible all night long. 
  2.    December 21, 2020 (Rare Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn): This rare and remarkable event is also known as The Great Conjunction. It is when the two bright planets of Jupiter and Saturn will be visible in the night sky and will appear astoundingly close to one another. The best time to view them will be just after sunset.

17. Winds in the upper portion of Saturn’s atmosphere can reach a speed of 1800 km/h.

Saturn’s upper atmospheric winds move at a speed of 1,800km/h, which is 5.2 times the speed of the most intense tropical cyclone to have ever been recorded on Earth (Hurricane Patricia), which achieved wind speeds of 346 km/h.

18. Saturn’s north pole has a six-sided cloud pattern called “Saturn’s hexagon.”

six sided hexagon jet stream
Credit : NASA

Saturn’s hexagon is a six-sided cloud pattern with a side length of 14,500 km and a diameter of about 30,000 km across. At its center exists a massive rotating storm. The jet stream winds that are produced by this impressive hexagonal cloud pattern reach up to 322 km/h. This unique feature in the solar system was first noticed by the Voyager I spacecraft and then investigated more precisely by the Cassini spacecraft.

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