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Saturn

Saturn, the second most massive planet, and the most distant planet known to the ancients, is one of the most beautiful sites in the Solar System, as witnessed by the adjacent image. The most striking feature of Saturn is the spectacular ring system. Although this feature is no longer unique, since we now know that all the Gas Giant planets have rings, the rings of Saturn are much more elaborate than those of any of the other planets. Saturn shares many features with its even larger Gas Giant neighbor Jupiter, but has various unique features in its own right.

Saturn is the second most massive planet, and also the second largest in size. It is a Gas Giant planet with a rotational period of 10-11 hours (depending on latitude), and an orbital period of 29.5 years. The rapid rotation flattens Saturn at the poles by about 10%, making it the most oblate planet. Its composition is similar to that of Jupiter, being composed mostly of hydrogen and helium. Like Jupiter, it is mostly liquid, with a small rocky core expected, but not directly observed, and like Jupiter, it has an internal heat source (it radiates more energy than it receives)..

Saturn has the lowest density of any planet, 0.7 g/cc, which is less than that of water. Saturn is of such low density that it would float in a (gigantic) bathtub. However, you would not want to put Saturn in a bathtub. Do you know why? Because it would leave a ring!

The interior is probably similar to Jupiter, with metallic hydrogen responsible for the strong magnetic field of Saturn. The concentration of helium relative to hydrogen is somewhat less than for Jupiter. This is thought to be due to the colder temperature of Saturn.

Although the Hubble Space Telescope can now take very good images of Saturn, our best information comes from space probes: Pioneer 11, Mariner 11 and 12, and Voyager I and II.

The ring system of Saturn is divided into 5 major components: the G, F, A, B, and C rings, listed from outside to inside...


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