Saturn is one of the most majestic objects in the night sky.
In a clear sky, Saturn can be viewed with naked eyes, but one can see its majestic view only through a telescope!
Saturn is massive; only Jupiter surpasses it in size.
Saturn is so huge in size that it can hold 760 Earths! Its radius is almost nine times that of Earth.
Saturn is also known as gas giant full of gases such as hydrogen, helium, methane. Hydrogen exists in layers becoming denser towards the planet. The proportion of hydrogen is almost 96.4% among all gases in the atmosphere of Saturn.
Its equatorial diameter is almost 10% higher than polar diameter; that is perhaps due to its fast rotation as well as low density.
Do you know that Saturn is not a dense planet in comparison to many other planets including the Earth?
Its density is even less than water at 0.687 grams/cubic centimeter. This means it can float in the water with ease and art!
Saturn’s inner core is made of iron and rocky material, which is surrounded by an outer core made of methane, ammonia, and water! While the solid core of Saturn equates the size of Earth, the thick layers of metallic hydrogen surround it.
You may be amazed to note that Saturn has a much stronger magnetic field – almost 578 times of that found at Earth.
Saturn spins on its axis quickly so as to get an oblate shape being flattened at the poles.
Do you know that it completes one turn on its axis only in 10 hours and 34 minutes meaning it has the second shortest day among all the planets in our solar system?
Its year is also much short when compared with that of the Earth. It completes one round around the Sun only in 29.4 Earth days.
Saturn has several layers in its atmosphere. The top layer of Saturn consists of ammonia ice. Below this, the clouds are formed of water ice and next to it are hydrogen and sulfur in a mixed state.
When Galileo targeted his telescope on Saturn, he did see rings around but was not sure what he was looking at. Initially, he thought he was looking at two large moons on both sides of Saturn.
When the Dutch astronomer Christian Huygens observed Saturn with an improved telescope, the object became clearer to him.
He could ascertain that those were not moons but in fact, rings. He could also view the largest moon, Titan.
More on Saturn Rings
Saturn is different from the other planets of our solar system because of its rings. The rings are largely made of ice and dust. While the rings span as far as 175,000 miles from the planet, its thickness, on average, has been estimated close to 33ft.
The formation of the rings is still an unresolved mystery!
With the help of powerful telescopes, scientists could find that Saturn has many rings made of ice and rock. These rocks have varying sizes from a small grain to the size of a large church.
The amazing thing is that the diameter of the largest ring is almost 7,000 times the diameter of Saturn!
The temperature within the rings is between -264.1 and -333.4 degrees F capable of giving a chilling effect in a few seconds.
One of the studies suggested that the rings could be the residues of dwarf planets. In fact, the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft could find that the particles accumulated in rings form the structure as high as 3 km. Much of the knowledge on Saturn and its moons have come to us only after several close photographs taken by the Spacecraft.
The spacecraft could trace one of the sources of these particles in Enceladus, the moon of Saturn. Enceladus is considered to have an ocean below its surface. Some parts of the rings are believed to have formed out of the debris of some inner moons.
Saturn size and location works as a guard for the Earth in the sense that it, along with Jupiter, helps steer dangerous asteroids out of range to reach at the Earth without which life at the Earth would have gone to extinction before it could evolve or sustain!
Asteroids and comets keep on impacting the rings of Saturn causing some changes in the rings over time.
The moons of Saturn possess some unusual features. Iapetus moon has one side as dark as charcoal and the other side as bright as snow. Enceladus Moon shows the sign of ice volcanism and holds an ocean of liquid water below its icy crust!
Between June 29 and July 22 of 2019, Saturn will be most brilliant and worthy of watching through a telescope. Between February 1 and July 8, it can be seen in the morning hours. On the nights of July 16-17, Saturn can be located just above the full moon.
Once you have finished watching Saturn, your next target should be to watch its moons. There are as many as 53 confirmed moons of Saturn. Along with the confirmed moons of Saturn at least nine other moons have been discovered that have received provisional status.
Titan – the Largest Moon of Saturn
The first and foremost that you must view is Titan, which is the largest of all moons of Saturn. If Ganymede is not counted, then Titan is the largest moon in the solar system.
Titan spans almost 5150 km – significantly larger than the Moon that spans only 3475 km. Titan is larger than the smaller planet Pluto and Mercury of our solar system.
Titan has a rich atmosphere made of nitrogen in the same way as the Earth had millions of year ago before life sprang up here. For comparison, the Earth’s atmosphere is only 60 km or so, but at Titan, it stretches as far as 600 km.
Titan has a vast reservoir of hydrocarbons including propylene, which is used to make plastics.
The ocean is almost 10km deep which is hidden below a thick sheet of ice spanning between 30 and 40 km thick!
Being in contact with a rocky seafloor, there is a possibility of a variety of complex chemical reactions taking place, which are necessary to evolve life in the same way as occurred on the Earth a few million years back.
The point is that scientists see the possibility of aquatic life in this ocean. So far no evidence of the same has been noticed!
Saturn in Mythology
In Greek mythology, Cronus (Saturn) revolted against his father and became the king of the gods with the help of his brothers, the Titans.
In Roman mythology, the planet has been named after the Roman god, which is the god of crops and the harvest. As per the Roman mythology, his father was Caelus (Uranus) and mother Terra (Gaea).
In Hindu mythology, Sani (Saturn) is the son of Surya (Sun) and Chhaya (shade). Sani’s glance is considered so potent that it can burn anything instantaneously! Sani is worshipped with great reverence in India.
Even today, Sani is worshipped across India, and numerous temples are devoted to Sani. On each Saturday, people rush to the temples of Sani to pay their homage in large numbers so as to safeguard themselves from the evil eyes of Saturn. Those who suffer ‘Sani’ in their birth charts often flock periodically to do some important rituals in the temples devoted to Sani.