Saturn is the sixth planet from the sun. It lies in the outer half of the solar system. The second largest planet, it is named after the god of agriculture. Saturn is one of the gas giants along with Jupiter, Neptune, and Uranus. Saturn has 62 known satellites and is known for its prominent rings.
Photo: Saturn, the gas giant with its distinctive ring (Creative Commons: NASA).
Facts About Saturn
Size: radius of 58.2 thousand kilometers.
Mass: 95 times that of earth.
Gravity: 106% of earth.
Satellites: 62 satellites.
Rotation: 10.5 hours (length of a day).
Surface Temperatures: 134 °K.
Features of Saturn
Like Jupiter, Saturn is a gas giant. The atmosphere of Saturn is mostly hydrogen (96%) and helium (3%) with other trace gases. However, towards the planet’s core, pressures and temperatures become very high. Under these conditions, gases begin to behave like a metal. As a result, a layer of metallic hydrogen surrounds the core. The core of the planet is thought to be iron and nickel.
About once every Saturn year, a Great White Spot develops. The spot is a storm system similar to Jupiter’s Red Spot. In the atmosphere, wind speeds can reach 1,800 kilometers per hour.
Saturn has the most prominent rings of the four gas giants. The rings may have been formed by the destruction of a moon. Or, they may have formed from the original nebular material which created Saturn.
The planet has 62 satellites with about another 100 smaller moonlets. Titan is the largest moon. This is followed by Rhea, the second largest moon. The moon Enceladus may have an ocean that could support microbial organisms.
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