Everything about Saturn, its ring system and its moons
Saturn is the sixth planet in our solar system from the sun and also one of the largest. Only Jupiter is bigger. Between 2004 and 2017, the Cassini spacecraft made 294 orbits around Saturn, gathering new information about the planet, which is nine times larger than Earth.
Landing on Saturn was not possible for the spacecraft, as the planet consists largely of gases and liquids, primarily hydrogen and helium. Moreover, the extreme temperatures on Saturn would instantly destroy a space probe. But even from a safe distance, we learned a lot about this gigantic gaseous planet, its system of rings and its dozens of moons.
Short days, long years
Saturn is almost ten times farther from the sun than Earth. The years are therefore much longer. It is only after 29 Earth years that Saturn completes its orbit around the sun. A day is much shorter on the gas giant. For a long time, astronomers did not know how long a day lasts on Saturn. In 2019, scientists found the answer: Saturn rotates on its own axis in ten hours, 33 minutes and 38 seconds.
The mysterious rings of Saturn
Rings are Saturn’s most famous feature, but how did they form? Scientists have several theories, but have yet to find conclusive evidence for the formation of the ring system.
One of the theories is that Saturn’s rings formed from a giant boom. A large ice object would have erupted in space and formed the base of the seven rings of white ice. The big question is: when did this phenomenon take place? Did Saturn’s rings form at the same time as the planet or millions of years later? This question has not yet been answered by science. But the ring system provides a definitive answer to another problem. Ripples in Saturn’s rings revealed that the planet had a giant, swampy core made up of ice, rock and gas.
How many moons does Saturn have?
Another mystery around Saturn: how many moons does the planet have? Saturn now has 83 known moons, but new moons are still being discovered regularly. And it is precisely this that arouses the interest of astronomers. After all, conditions on Saturn are too extreme to make life easier, but on some moons that chance is much higher.
Signs of Life on the Moon Titus
Take, for example, Titus, Saturn’s largest moon, which is remarkably similar to Earth. Moreover, it is so far the only place in our solar system, outside of Earth itself, where we have found fluids in the form of rivers, lakes and seas. With one big difference: the rivers of Titus are made up of liquid methane.
To learn more about the possible life that could be lurking in the subterranean oceans of Titus, NASA sends the Dragonfly mission to Saturn’s moon in 2027. This small spacecraft, similar to rovers on Mars, is expected to arrive in Titus in 2034 And looking for signs of life.
Dragonfly is the successor to Cassini, which completed its mission around Saturn in September 2017 in spectacular fashion: the spacecraft plunged into Saturn’s atmosphere, after which it evaporated.
Read also: this Saturn moon has the strangest mountain range in the solar system.
Saturn is also visible from Earth
Cassini made beautiful images of the planet during all of its orbits around Saturn, but you can also regularly view the celestial body from Earth. Although the planet is far from Earth, Saturn is visible to the naked eye. To see Saturn’s famous rings, you need a telescope.
Willeke van Doorn studied journalism, traveled the world for a while and ended up working for Quest, National Geographic and Runner’s World editors via the US, Australia and New Zealand. She is curious about the world, prefers to travel every month and always takes her running shoes with her.
“Devoted bacon guru. Award-winning explorer. Internet junkie. Web lover.”