All about Saturn, its ring system and moons

Saturn is the sixth planet in our solar system from the Sun and one of the largest. Only Jupiter is the largest. Between 2004 and 2017, the Cassini spacecraft orbited Saturn 294 times, collecting new information about the planet, which is nine times larger than Earth.

Landing on Saturn was not possible for the spacecraft, because the planet is largely composed of gases and liquids, mainly hydrogen and helium. In addition, extreme temperatures on Saturn would instantly destroy a space probe. But even from a safe distance, we learned a lot about this giant gas planet, its ring system and dozens of moons.

Short days and long years

Saturn is about ten times farther from the Sun than Earth. So the years are much longer. Only after 29 Earth years does Saturn complete its orbit around the Sun. A much shorter day for the gas giant. For a long time, it was not clear to astronomers how long a day on Saturn lasts. In 2019, scientists found the answer: Saturn rotates on its axis in ten hours, 33 minutes and 38 seconds.

The mysterious rings of Saturn

The rings are Saturn’s most famous feature, but how did they form? Scientists have several theories, but they have not yet found definitive evidence of the formation of the ring system.

One theory says that Saturn’s rings were formed by a giant explosion. A large ice body would have exploded in space and formed the foundation for the seven white ice rings. The big question: when did this phenomenon occur? Did Saturn’s rings form at the same time as the planet or millions of years later? This question has not yet been answered by science. But the ring system provides a definitive answer to another problem. Ripples in Saturn’s rings revealed that the planet contains a giant, swampy core made of ice, rock, and gas.

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How many moons does Saturn have?

Another mystery surrounding Saturn: How many moons does the planet have? Saturn has 83 known moons today, but new moons are still being discovered on a regular basis. And this is exactly what astronomers are interested in. After all, the conditions on Saturn are too harsh to make life easier, but on some moons that chance is much higher.

Signs of life on the moon Titus

Take, for example, Titus, the largest of Saturn’s moons, which is remarkably similar to Earth. In addition, it is the only place in our solar system, besides Earth itself, where we have found liquids in the form of rivers, lakes, and seas. With one big difference: the rivers on Titus are made of liquid methane.

To learn more about the potential life that could lurk in Titus’ subterranean oceans, NASA is sending the Dragonfly mission to Saturn’s moon in 2027. This small spacecraft, similar to the Mars rover, should reach Titus in 2034 and Looking for signs of life there.

Dragonfly is the successor to Cassini, which completed its mission around Saturn in September 2017 in spectacular fashion: the spacecraft plunged into Saturn’s atmosphere, and then evaporated.

Read also: This moon of Saturn contains the strangest mountain range in the solar system.

Saturn is also visible from Earth

Cassini has taken beautiful pictures of the planet during all of its orbits around Saturn, but you can also view the celestial body regularly from Earth. Although the planet is far from Earth, Saturn is visible to the naked eye. To see Saturn’s famous rings, you need a telescope.

Willicky Van Dorn studied journalism, traveled the world for a while, and eventually ended up working with the editors of Quest, National Geographic, and Runner’s World across the US, Australia, and New Zealand. Curious to know the world, she prefers to travel every month and always take her running shoes with her.

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