Seven Interesting Facts to Know About Saturn

Saturn is best known for its beautiful rings. This planet is so large and close enough that it can be easily seen with the naked eye. That ease of observation gave it a prominent place in the mythology of ancient cultures around the world. However it wasn't until the early 1600s that observers could see more about the planet. Our view of Saturn expanded when the telescope was invented. The first observer to use one to take a good look was Galileo Galilei. He spotted its rings, although he thought they might be "ears". With better telescopes came better views, and over the next several centuries we came to know a great deal about this gas giant. Let's take a look at some interesting facts about Saturn, its rings, and its surrounding moons.

Edited by Carolyn Collins Petersen.

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Saturn's Rings Are Made Primarily of Ice and Dust particles.

Despite the fact that the rings of Saturn look like continuous hoops of matter encircling the giant planet, each one is actually made of tiny individual particles. About 93% of the "stuff" of the rings is water ice. Some of them are chunks as large as a modern car. However, most of the pieces are the size of dust particles.There is also some dust in the rings, which are divided by gaps that are cleared out by some of Saturn's moons.

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It isn't Clear How The Rings Formed

There is a good likelihood that the rings are actually the remnants of a moon that was ripped apart by the gravity of Saturn. However, some astronomers suggest that the rings formed naturally, alongside the planet in the early solar system from the original solar nebula. No one is sure how long the rings will last, but if they were formed when Saturn did, then they could last quite a long time, indeed.

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Saturn Has At Least 62 Moons

In the inner part of the solar system, the terrestrial worlds (Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars) have few (or no) moons. However, the outer planets are each surrounded by dozens of moons. Many are small, and some may have been passing asteroids trapped by the planets' massive gravitational pulls. Others, though, appear to have formed out of material from the early solar system and remained trapped by the forming giants nearby. Most of Saturn's moons are icy worlds, although Titan is a rocky world covered with ices and a thick atmosphere.

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Saturn's Density is Very Low

While Saturn has nearly 764 times the volume of Earth, its mass is only 95 times as great. This means that Saturn's average density is about 0.687 grams per cubic centimeter, significantly less than that of water, which is 0.9982 grams per cubic centimeter.  

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It Takes Nearly 30 Earth Years for Saturn to Orbit the Sun

Talk about time seeming to drag on... Saturn, being farther from the Sun than Earth, takes significantly longer to orbit the Sun than our world does. At 29.4571 years per orbit, Saturn will go around the Sun only a few times in any human's lifetime. If you think that's long, Pluto's year is 248 Earth years, so no human has been alive for a full Pluto orbit. Some long-period comets take thousands of years to make one trip around the Sun! 

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Saturn's Largest Moon, Titan, is Bigger than the Planet Mercury.

Titan is the second largest moon in our solar system, behind only Jupiter's Ganymede. Because of its gravity and gas production Titan is the only moon in the solar system with an appreciable atmosphere. It is made mostly of water and rock (in its interior), but has a surface covered with nitrogen ice and methane lakes and rivers. 

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Saturn's "Day" is About 10 hours, 32 minutes and 35 seconds Long

It is difficult to quantify the rotational period of Saturn because, like Jupiter, different regions of the planet rotate at different rates. On average though, Saturn's day, at a little over 10 and a half hours "Earth time" is significantly shorter than our day on Earth. This means that the large gas giant rotates much faster than than Earth does on its axis.