fr en es pt
Contact the author rss astronoo

Category: planets and dwarf planets
Update June 03, 2023

Planet Saturn

Characteristics of the Planet Saturn

Image: True color photo of Saturn taken March 27, 2004 by Cassini 300 million kilometers from Saturn. The globe appears orange, revealing an atmosphere charged with methane, these rings appear transparent like ring C (ring close to the planet). Sunlight passes through the rings and the small particles contained in the rings strongly scatter the blue light, projected onto the globe of Saturn.
note: The Earth is represented under the rings of Saturn (on the left) as a comparison of the diameters of Saturn and the Earth (approximate scale: 500 km/px).
Image credit: public domain.

Characteristics of the Planet Saturn

n the photo opposite, it is summer in Saturn's southern hemisphere while the northern hemisphere is in winter. Saturn rotates so quickly, in just 10 hours, that centrifugal force forces the winds to blow parallel to the equator, which explains the effect of horizontal streaks observed on its surface. Thus, the strong winds of the planet are due to the speed of rotation of Saturn.
The rings and the satellites form a coherent whole, mutually influencing each other and respecting a balance implemented by celestial mechanics. However, this balance is fragile and will have a short lifespan (a few hundred million years).

Rings: Saturn is surrounded by a complex system of rings mostly composed of small fragments of ice, ranging in size from a grain of sand to that of a car. These ice particles are mixed with rocky materials and dust.
The rings are divided into several main bands, designated by letters of the alphabet, from A to F. The widest and brightest band is the A ring, while the B ring is the brightest and brightest. wider. The origin of Saturn's rings is not fully understood, but it is thought that they may have formed from remnants of captured moons or material that was never able to form a full moon due to tidal forces from Saturn

The Great Hexagonal Spot: Near Saturn's north pole, there is a hexagon-shaped atmospheric formation known as the Great Hexagonal Spot. It is a regular structure with six almost equal sides. The diameter of the side of the hexagon measures approximately 13,800 kilometers, which is larger than the Earth. The height of the spot from the clouds of the atmosphere to the top is about 60 kilometers. The Large Hexagonal Spot rotates with the planet Saturn, but at a different speed than other parts of the atmosphere. This creates a stable and persistent structure.

The moon Titan: Titan is the largest moon of Saturn and the second largest moon in the solar system, after Jupiter's Ganymede. Its size is larger than that of the planet Mercury. Titan has a dense atmosphere, composed mostly of nitrogen, with traces of methane, ethane and other hydrocarbons. It is the only known moon to have a significant atmosphere.

Frozen Moons: Enceladus is a small moon of Saturn known for its ice geysers. These geysers project jets of water vapour, ice and particles into space from fractures present on its surface. They indicate the presence of an underground ocean of liquid water that could harbor conditions favorable to life.
Tethys has a surface mainly composed of water ice. It also has a large feature called the Ithaca Valley, which is a long crevasse that runs through its southern hemisphere.
Dione is another moon of Saturn covered in water ice. It features dramatic cliffs and impact craters. Observations suggest the presence of an underground ocean of liquid water.
Rhea also has an icy surface. It is characterized by extensive networks of fractures called "stripes" that cover its surface.
Iapetus has a contrasting surface with half darker and half lighter. This color difference is due to the presence of dark organic matter on part of the surface.

Atmospheric Storms: Saturn is subject to notable atmospheric storms and eddies, including thunderstorms and particulate clouds. The Great Dark Spot is a persistent storm that has been observed for decades. It presents a dark, oval appearance on the surface of Saturn, with dimensions equivalent to several times that of Earth.
Saturn has powerful atmospheric jets, which are fast, persistent air currents in its atmosphere. These jets contribute to the formation and stability of storms and atmospheric formations.

Seasonal Variations: Like Earth, Saturn experiences seasonal variations due to the tilt of its axis. This leads to changes in atmospheric patterns and cloud distribution.

Atmosphere: Saturn's atmosphere is composed primarily of hydrogen (about 96%) and helium (about 3%), with small amounts of other gases and compounds. This dense and thick atmosphere is also the site of many atmospheric phenomena, including storms and cloud formations, which give Saturn its distinct appearance. Atmospheric waves form in Saturn's atmosphere, creating wave-like patterns in the clouds.

Auroras: As on Earth, Saturn exhibits auroras, luminous phenomena created by the interaction of charged particles with its magnetic field.

Space missions to Planet Saturn

1979: The Pioneer 11 space probe was a NASA mission launched on April 6, 1973 to explore the giant planets Jupiter and Saturn. Although the mission was not specifically devoted to the study of Saturn, Pioneer 11 provided valuable data on this planet during its September 1979 flyby.

1980: The Voyager 1 spacecraft was a NASA space mission that was launched on September 5, 1977 to explore the giant planets of the solar system, including Jupiter and Saturn. The main objective of the Voyager 1 mission was to study the characteristics and environments of the giant planets of the solar system, including Jupiter and Saturn, as well as their moons and rings. After its flyby of Jupiter, Voyager 1 continued its journey to Saturn. On November 12, 1980, the probe passed close to Saturn, providing detailed images and measurements of the planet, its rings, and some of its moons, including Titan. After its flyby of Saturn, Voyager 1 continued its journey through the solar system. On August 25, 2012, the probe became the first human object to reach interstellar space, marking a historic moment in space exploration.

1981: The Voyager 2 spacecraft was a NASA space mission that was launched on August 20, 1977, shortly before its twin sister Voyager 1. Its main objective was to explore the giant planets of the solar system, including Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Voyager 2 performed a flyby of Saturn on August 25, 1981, about nine months after Voyager 1. The probe provided detailed images and measurements of the planet, its rings, moons and atmosphere.

2004: The Cassini-Huygens probe was launched on October 15, 1997 and arrived at Saturn on July 1, 2004, after a seven-year journey. The Cassini-Huygens mission was a collaboration between NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and ASI (Italian Space Agency) to explore the planet Saturn and its system. The mission was named after Italian astronomer Giovanni Cassini, who discovered Saturn's rings, and Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens, who discovered the moon Titan. The Cassini spacecraft has carried out extensive exploration of Saturn and its moons for more than 13 years, providing invaluable data on the planet, its rings and its moons. The Huygens lander also landed on the moon Titan, providing the first images and data of its surface.

1997 © − Astronomy, Astrophysics, Evolution and Earth science.