Saturn captures the imagination with its system of rings. We now know the rings of Saturn are not the only such structure to be found in the solar system. Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune all have ring particles orbiting them. It's just that the rings of Saturn can be seen with even a relatively small telescope by observers here on Earth. I am always delighted and amused by my guests' first view of this gas giant through my telescopes. Yes, you can easily see the rings, and that fact continues to astonish these viewers.Over the past thirty years, our knowledge of Saturn has increased tremendously with the data returned by numerous probes.
The equatorial radius of Saturn is 60,000 km.This makes the planet 9.5 times larger than Earth.
Saturn’s not round!Saturn spins in 10h 14m at the equator. But different parts of Saturn rotate at different speeds. This is typical of the gas giants. The planet is visibly flattened by its high rate of rotation.
Semi-Major Axis9.5 A.U. Sunlight at Saturn is about ninety times weaker than on Earth (you square the distance)Orbital Period29 years Saturn spends about two years in each of the twelve zodiacal constellations.
It’s a gas!Saturn has a deep gaseous layer of mainly hydrogen and helium gas.There is a slight amount of other, more exotic compounds.Deeper inside, there are likely to be layers of liquid metallic hydrogen and, perhaps, a semi-solid core.
Like Jupiter, but not.Though not as strong as Jupiter’s, Saturn’s magnetic field is still significant. It is thought to be generated by a layer of the interior consisting of liquid metallic hydrogen.Radiation zones surround the planet, but not to the same extent as Jupiter.
Does this Belt go with my Zones?Dark belts alternate with bright zones, but they are much harder to see on Saturn than on Jupiter, due to a high layer of icy haze.
Really big, and really smallSaturn has dozens of moons. Titan dominates the collection with the rest being smaller icy moons. The intermediate moons of Saturn may give us some idea of the appearance of the Kuiper Belt objects of the outer solar system. Some of the remaining moons might be captured comets or minor planets. Within the ring system, we see shepherding moons.
Trillions of SnowballsThe rings of Saturn were a mystery at first. The famous ring systemis composed of 'snowballs'. Here is a paintingthat shows what it might look like within the rings. A movie shows the strange spokesin the rings. Saturn’s ring, consists of snowball-sized ice particles probably the result of a destroyed moon. We have labeled different portions of the rings based on their composition and density.Here is a nice diagramof the ring system and Saturn’s moons.