Covered with clouds that appear as faint stripes, jet streams and storms, Saturn’s upper atmosphere is characterized by winds that can reach up to 1,600 feet / 500 meters per second.
Predominately composed out of hydrogen and helium, Saturn’s density is the lowest out of all the planets in the Solar System, having no true surface just like Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune.
Due to Saturn’s axial tilt of 26.73 degrees, similar to that of Earth, the southern and northern hemispheres are heated differently, causing seasonal temperature variations. Much of these variations in temperature are horizontal.
Saturn has oval shaped storms which are similar to those of Jupiter. Scientists believe that the hexadiagonal-shaped pattern of clouds around Saturn’s north pole may be a wave pattern in the upper clouds. There is also a vortex over the south pole which resembles hurricane storms on Earth.
Saturn gives off more energy than it receives from the Sun. This unusual quality is believed to be generated from the gravitational compression of the planet combined with the friction from large amount of helium found within its atmosphere.
Saturn’s rings are divided into 7 groups, named alphabetically in the order of their discovery (Outwards from Saturn; D, C, B, A, F, G and E). The F ring is kept in place by two of Saturn’s moons, Prometheus and Pandora, these are referred to as ‘shepherd moons’. Other satellites are responsible for creating divisions in the rings as well as shepherding them.
Saturn’s rings are made up of are billions of particles that range in size from tiny dust grains to to objects as large as mountains. These are made up of chunks of ice and rock, believed to have come from asteroids comets or even moons, that broke apart before they reached the planet.
While all the gas giants in our solar system have rings none of them are as extensive or distinctive as Saturn’s. The rings were discovered by Galileo Galilei 1610 who observed them with a telescope. The first ‘up close’ view of the rings were by Pioneer 11 spacecraft which flew by Saturn on September 1, 1971.
Saturn’s atmosphere is composed primarily of hydrogen (96%) and helium (3%) with traces of other substances like methane, ammonia, acetylene, ethane, propane and phosphine. Winds in the upper atmosphere can reach speeds of 500 metres a second, these combined with heat rising from within the planet’s interior cause yellow and gold bands.
Four spacecraft have visited Saturn.
Pioneer 11, Voyager 1 and 2, and the Cassini-Huygens mission have all studied the planet. Cassini orbited Saturn from July 2004 until September 2017, sending back a wealth of data about the planet, its moons, and rings.
Titan is a moon with complex and dense nitrogen-rich atmosphere.
It is composed mostly of water ice and rock. Its frozen surface has lakes of liquid methane and landscapes covered with frozen nitrogen. Planetary scientists consider Titan to be a possible harbour for life, but not Earth-like life.
#saturn has oval-shaped storms similar to Jupiter’s.
The region around its north pole has a hexagonal-shaped pattern of clouds. Scientists think this may be a wave pattern in the upper clouds. The planet also has a vortex over its south pole that resembles a hurricane-like storm.
Saturn orbits the Sun once every 29.4 Earth years.
Its slow movement against the backdrop of stars earned it the nickname of “Lubadsagush” from the ancient Assyrians. The name means “oldest of the old”.