Saturn is a huge ball of gas and Saturn’s atmosphere blends into the center of the planet

November 24, 2012 12:59 am

Saturn is the second largest planet in our solar system, after Jupiter. It is the sixth planet from the Sun. Saturn is surrounded by spectacular rings. Italian astronomer Galileo was the first person to see the rings around Saturn. He thought the rings looked like handles. Galileo was looking at Saturn through one of the first telescopes, in 1610. In the 1650s, a Dutch astronomer named Christiaan Huygens was the first astronomer to see that the “handles” were really huge rings.

SATURN’S RINGS

Saturn has seven main rings. The rings are made of many smaller ringlets. They are by far the biggest and brightest rings of any planet in our solar system. Jupiter, Neptune, and Uranus also have rings. Saturn’s rings go out hundreds of thousands of miles from the center of the planet. You could just fit Saturn and its rings in the between Earth and our Moon.

Saturn’s rings are pretty thin. In places they are only 16 feet (5 meters) thick. The rings are made of dust, pieces of rock, frozen gases, and ice.

WHAT IS SATURN LIKE?

Saturn is a huge ball of gas. Like the planets Jupiter, Neptune, and Uranus, Saturn is called a gas giant. None of the gas giants have a solid surface that you could land a spacecraft on.

The gases around Saturn are poisonous to people. You need to breathe oxygen in order to live. Saturn’s atmosphere is mostly hydrogen and helium gas. An atmosphere is the layer of gases around a planet.

There are thick clouds in Saturn’s atmosphere. The clouds look like colored stripes going around the planet. Strong winds and storms make Saturn’s clouds whirl and swirl.

Saturn’s atmosphere blends into the center of the planet. The gases get thicker and heavier the farther down you go. Finally, the gas turns to liquid.

Astronomers think that the center, or core, of Saturn is very hot. They think the temperature could be about 27,000° Fahrenheit (15,000° Celsius). There are probably rocks and possibly iron in the core of Saturn.

Saturn acts like a big magnet in space. Other planets, including Earth, also act like big magnets.

DOES SATURN HAVE MOONS?

Saturn has 47 moons. Some of the moons orbit, or go around, Saturn inside the rings. Others orbit farther out, beyond the rings.

The largest moon is Titan. Titan is larger than the planets Pluto and Mercury. It has an atmosphere made of nitrogen gas. Scientists think that Titan’s atmosphere may be like Earth’s atmosphere was billions of years ago.

Saturn’s other moons are smaller and icy cold. Enceladus is covered with bright ice, and it has geysers. It is the brightest moon in the solar system. Mimas has a huge crater that formed when a meteor hit. The enormous impact must have almost shattered the moon.

HOW DO WE LEARN ABOUT SATURN?

Ancient people could see Saturn without a telescope. But they could not see Saturn’s rings. They named Saturn after the Roman god of farming.

Astronomers study Saturn through telescopes. They send spacecraft to take pictures and measurements of Saturn and its moons and rings. The first spacecraft to visit Saturn was Pioneer 11 in 1979. Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 visited Saturn in the 1980s. The Cassini spacecraft arrived at Saturn in 2004.

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