solar system


Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and is the second largest in the solar system with an equatorial diameter of 119,300 kilometers (74,130 miles).

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Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and is the second largest in the solar system with an equatorial diameter of 119,300 kilometers (74,130 miles). Much of what is known about the planet is due to the Voyager explorations in 1980-81. Saturn is visibly flattened at the poles, a result of the very fast rotation of the planet on its axis. Its day is 10 hours, 39 minutes long, and it takes 29.5 Earth years to revolve about the Sun. The atmosphere is primarily composed of hydrogen with small amounts of helium and methane. Saturn is the only planet less dense than water (about 30 percent less). In the unlikely event that a large enough ocean could be found, Saturn would float in it. Saturn's hazy yellow hue is marked by broad atmospheric banding similar to, but fainter than, that found on Jupiter.

Physical characteristics

Equatorial radius 60,268 1 4 km[5][6]
9.4492 Earths
Polar radius 54,364 1 10 km[5][6]
8.5521 Earths
Flattening 0.097 96 1 0.000 18
Surface area 4.27 W 1010 km2[7][6]
83.703 Earths
Volume 8.2713 W 1014 km3[3][6]
763.59 Earths
Mass 5.6846 W 1026 kg[3]
95.152 Earths
Mean density 0.687 g/cm3[3][6]
(less than water)
Equatorial surface gravity 8.96 m/s2[3][6]
0.914 g
Escape velocity 35.5 km/s[3][6]
Sidereal rotation period 0.439 . 0.449 day[8]
(10 h 32 . 47 min)
Equatorial rotation velocity 9.87 km/s[6]
35 500 km/h
Axial tilt 26.730[3]
North pole right ascension 2 h 42 min 21 s
North pole declination 83.5370[5]
Albedo 0.342 (bond)
0.47 (geom.)[3]
Surface temp.
1 bar level
0.1 bar

134 K[3]
84 K[3]
Apparent magnitude +1.2 to -0.24[9]
Angular diameter 14.5" . 20.1"[3]
(excludes rings)

Saturn's Interior


The Giant planets do not have the same layered structure that the terrestrial planets do. Their evolution was quite different than that of the terrestrial planets, and they have less solid material.

Saturn's interior composition is primarily that of simple molecules such as hydrogen and helium, which are liquids under the high pressure environments found in the interiors of the outer planets, and not solids.

Motions in the interior of Saturn contribute in a very special way to the development of the powerful and extensive magnetosphere of Saturn. Heat generated within Saturn contributes to the unusual motions of the atmosphere.

Saturn's Atmosphere

Scale height
~96% Hydrogen (H2)
~3% Helium
~0.4% Methane
~0.01% Ammonia
~0.01% Hydrogen deuteride (HD)
0.000 7% Ethane
ammonium hydrosulfide(NH4SH)

Saturn's Rings

Saturn Cassini Determines the Density of Saturn's Rings May 24, 2005 - NASA's Cassini spacecraft has obtained the most detailed images ever taken of Saturn's rings, including new details about its B ring, of which little was known previously. Cassini went behind Saturn's rings on May 3, 2005, and this gave scientists on Earth a chance to probe the ringst. Cassini sent a series of radio signals as it traveled behind the rings; the weaker the signal, the more dense the material in the rings. This allowed scientists to determine the thickness and size of particles at each point in the rings

Saturn's Rings

Name Radius inner Radius outer width approx. position approx. mass (kg
D-Ring 67,000 74,500 7,500 (ring)
Guerin Division (n/a) (n/a) (n/a) (n/a) (n/a)
C-Ring 74,500 92,000 17,500 (ring) 1.1e18
Maxwell Division 87,500 88,000 500 divide)
B-Ring 92,000 117,500 25,500 (ring) 2.8e19
Cassini Division 115,800 120,600 4,800 (divide)
Huygens Gap 117,680 (n/a) 285-440 (subdiv)
A-Ring 122,200 136,800 14,600 (ring) 6.2e18
Encke Minima 126,430 129,940 3,500 29%-53%
Encke Division 133,410 133,740
Keeler Gap 136,510 136,550
F-Ring 140,210 30-500 (ring)
G-Ring 165,800 173,800 8,000 (ring) 1e7?
E-Ring 180,000 480,000 300,000 (ring)

Saturn Rings Have Own Atmosphere

Saturn's vast and majestic ring system has its own atmosphere - separate from that of the planet itself, according to data from the Cassini spacecraft. And Saturn is rotating seven minutes more slowly than when probes measured its spin in the 70s and 80s - an observation experts cannot yet explain. Cassini-Huygens mission scientists are celebrating the spacecraft's first year in orbit around the ringed planet. Saturn

Storm on Saturn

This image, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, shows a rare storm that appears as a white arrowhead-shaped feature near the planet's equator. The storm is generated by an upwelling of warmer air, similar to a terrestrial thunderhead. The east-west extent of this storm is equal to the diameter of the Earth (about 12,700 kilometers or 7,900 miles). The Hubble images are sharp enough to reveal that Saturn's prevailing winds shape a dark "wedge" that eats into the western (left) side of the bright central cloud.


The planet's strongest eastward winds, clocked at 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) per hour based on Voyager spacecraft images taken in 1980-81, are at the latitude of the wedge.

To the north of this arrowhead-shaped feature, the winds decrease so that the storm center is moving eastward relative to the local flow. The clouds expanding north of the storm are swept westward by the winds at higher latitudes. The strong winds near the latitude of the dark wedge blow over the northern part of the storm, creating a secondary disturbance that generates the faint white clouds to the east (right) of the storm center. The storm's white clouds are ammonia ice crystals that form when an upward flow of warmer gases shoves its way through Saturn's frigid cloud tops.

Orbital characteristics

Saturn Orbit
Aphelion 1,513,325,783 km
10.115 958 04 AU
Perihelion 1,353,572,956 km
9.048 076 35 AU
Semi-major axis 1,433,449,370 km
9.582 017 20 AU
Eccentricity 0.055 723 219
Orbital period 10,832.327 days
29.657 296 yr
Synodic period 378.09 days[3]
Average orbital speed 9.69 km/s[3]
Mean anomaly 320.346 7500
Inclination 2.485 2400 to Ecliptic
5.510 to Sun.s equator
0.930 to Invariable plane[4]
Longitude of ascending node 113.642 8110
Argument of perihelion 336.013 8620
Satellites ~ 200 observed (61 with secure orbits)

Saturn Moons



Planetary Moon Titan

Discovered in 1655 by the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens, Titan is the biggest of the 31 known moons orbiting Saturn. It is a cold world enclosed by a thick, hazy atmosphere impenetrable by telescopes and cameras.

With an equatorial radius of 2,575 kilometers (1,600 miles), Titan is the second largest moon in our solar system. It's bigger than our own moon and even the planet Mercury. Only Jupiter's moon Ganymede is larger than Titan, with a diameter barely 112 kilometers (62 miles) greater.

The temperature at Titan's surface is about minus 1780C (minus 2890F).

Titan orbits Saturn at a distance of about 1.2 million kilometers (745,000 miles), taking almost 16 days to complete a full orbit - 15.94 days to be exact.

Titan is of great interest to scientists because it is the only moon in the solar system known to have clouds and a mysterious, thick, planet-like atmosphere. In 1980, NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft tried to take close up images of the natural features of Titan's landscape but was unable to penetrate the thick clouds. Instead, the images showed only slight color and brightness variations in the atmosphere. Titan's atmospheric pressure is about 60 percent greater than Earth's - roughly the same pressure found at the bottom of a swimming pool.

Titan Titan's thick haze layer is shown in this enhanced Voyager 1 image taken Nov. 12, 1980 at a distance of 435,000 kilometers (270,000 miles). Voyager images of Saturn's largest moon show Titan completely enveloped by haze that merges with a darker "hood" or cloud layer over the north pole. Such a mantle is not present at the south pole. At Voyager's closest approach to Titan on Nov. 11, 1980, spacecraft instruments found that the moon has a substantial atmosphere, far denser than that of Mars and possibly denser than Earth's.



Planetary Moon Tethys

Tethys [TEE-this] was discovered by Giovanni Cassini in 1684. It is an icy body similar in nature to Dione and Rhea. The density of Tethys is 1.21 gm/cm3, indicating that it is composed almost entirely of water-ice. Tethys's icy surface is heavily cratered and contains cracks caused by faults in the ice. There is one enormous trench on Tethys about 65 kilometers (40 miles) wide and extending from above the center to the extreme left. It covers three-fourths of Tethys' circumference. The fissure is about the size scientists would predict if Tethys were once fluid and its crust hardened before the interior. The canyon has been named Ithaca Chasma. A vast expanse of relative young plains also exists on Tethys. Tethys' surface temperature is -187° C (-305° F).



Planetary Moon Enceladus

Enceladus [en-SELL-ah-dus] is one of the innermost moons of Saturn. It is quite similar in size to Mimas but has a smoother, brighter surface. Enceladus reflects almost 100 percent of the sunlight that strikes it. Unlike Mimas, Enceladus displays at least five different types of terrain. Parts of Enceladus shows craters no larger than 35 km in diameter. Other areas show regions with no craters indicating major resurfacing events in the geologically recent past. There are fissures, plains, corrugated terrain and other crustal deformations. All of this indicates that the interior of the moon may be liquid today, even though it should have frozen aeons ago. It is postulated that Enceladus is heated by a tidal mechanism similar to Jupiter's moon Io. It is perturbed in its orbit by Saturn's gravitational field and by the large neighboring satellites Tethys and Dione.

Because Enceladus reflects so much sunlight, the surface temperature is only -201° C (-330° F).



Rhea [REE-a] is the largest airless satellite of Saturn. It was discovered in 1672 by Giovanni Cassini. Rhea is an icy body with a density of 1.33 gm/cm3. The low density indicates that it is composed of a rocky core taking up less than one-third of the moon's mass, with the rest composed of water-ice. Rhea is somewhat similar to Dione. They both have similar composition, albedo features, varied terrain and synchronous rotations. The temperature on Rhea is -174¡C with illumation from the Sun and between -200°C and -220°C (-328°F and -364°F) in the shade.

Rhea is heavily cratered with bright whispy markings. Its surface can be divided into two geologically different areas based on crater density. The first area contains craters which are larger than 40 kilometers (25 miles) in diameter. The second area, in parts of the polar and equatorial regions, has craters under 40 kilometers (25 miles) in diameter. This suggests that a major resurfacing event occurred some time during its formation.

Moon : Dione


Dione was discovered in 1684 by Giovanni Cassini. It is an icy body similar to Tethys and Rhea. Its density is 1.43 gm/cm3, which makes it the densest moon of Saturn other than Titan. Dione is probably composed of a rocky core making up one-third of the moon's mass, with the rest water-ice. Its ice coverage is less than that of Tethys and Rhea.

Dione's icy surface includes heavily cratered terrain, moderately cratered plains, lightly cratered plains, and wispy material. The heavily cratered terrain has numerous craters greater than 100 kilometers in diameter. The plains area tends to have craters less than 30 kilometers in diameter. Some of the plains are heavily cratered while others are not. Much of the heavily cratered terrain is located on the trailing hemisphere, with the less cratered plains area existing on the leading hemisphere. This is opposite from what some scientists expected. Shoemaker and Wolfe proposed a cratering model for a tidally locked satellite with the highest cratering rates on the leading hemisphere and the lowest on the trailing hemisphere. This suggests that during the period of heavy bombardment, Dione was tidally locked to Saturn in the opposite orientation. Because Dione is relatively small, an impact causing a 35 kilometer (21 mile) crater could have spun the satellite. Since there are many craters larger than 35 kilometers (21 miles), Dione could have been repeatedly spun.

Saturn Moons

Saturns Moons

Saturns moons are shown in orbit in the image above


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