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Saturn

Subject:

Science  

Grades:

5, 6  

Mercury  Venus  Earth  Mars  Jupiter  Saturn  Uranus  Neptune  Pluto

Saturn

Classification
Using the classification based on size, Saturn is one of the giant planets. These planets are also known as the the gas giants. The other three giants planets are Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune. These gas giants all have diameters greater than 48000 kilometers.

The other planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth Mars and Pluto are called the small planets. The small planets all have diameters less than 13000 kilometers.

Where is It?
Saturn is the sixth planet in the solar system, located between Jupiter and Uranus. Saturn is much further away from the Sun than the Earth is. Its average distance from the Sun is 1427 million kilometers., compared to Earth’s which is 150 million kilometers. Saturn’s orbit, the path it follows around the Sun, is nearly a circle. The closest the as planet comes to the Sun is around 1300 million kilometers., while the furthest away it gets is around 1500 million kilometers.

How Did It Get Its Name?
Saturn was named after the Roman god of agriculture. In Roman mythology Saturn was the father of Jupiter. Saturn is also the origin, of the word “Saturday”.

How long are its years and days?
Since Saturn is so far away from the Sun, it takes a very long time for it to go around the Sun once. One year on Saturn, the amount of time it takes for this trip, is 29.5 Earth years. A day on Saturn, though, is much shorter than one Earth day. The giant planet spins around, or rotates, once every ten and one-half hours.

How Big Is It?
Saturn is the second-largest planet in the solar system. Jupiter is the only planet that is bigger. The gas giant is 120000 kilometers. in diameter, almost ten times the size of Earth.

Can It Be Seen From Earth?
Saturn can be seen without a telescope. Saturn is easy to pick out in the sky because it is one of the brightest lights in the sky. Also, the planet has a very faint greenish color that makes it stand out from the rest of the things in the sky.

What Is It Made Of?
Saturn is a lot like Jupiter, in that it is a gas planet, made of mostly of hydrogen and helium. Saturn is a lot lighter, or less dense, than Jupiter. The combination of its light weight and speedy rotation causes Saturn to spread out, or oblate, at its center. Jupiter spreads out at its center, too, like the rest of the gas planets, but not nearly as much as Saturn.

What Is It Like on The Surface?
Since Saturn is a gas planet, it does not have a solid surface like Earth does. Landing a spacecraft on Saturn would be like trying to land an airplane on a cloud. The clouds that are seen when Saturn is viewed through a telescope are just the top of a very deep layer that covers a center of liquid hydrogen.
The clouds on Saturn are blown by constant winds that can blow at speeds up to 1600 kilometers. per hour at the equator, or center, of the planet. Saturn does have different colored spots, or features, in its clouds, but nothing that is as spectacular as the Great Red Spot on Jupiter.

How Many Moons Does It Have?
Saturn has at least eighteen moons, more than any other planet in our solar system. The Voyager missions took pictures of what might be at least six more moons. The Cassini mission will verify this. The many moons of Saturn play an important part in keeping the shape of Saturn’s spectacular rings.
One of Saturn’s most interesting moons is Titan, which has a very thick atmosphere, or blanket of air, surrounding it. The atmosphere on Titan contains a lot of nitrogen. Scientists believe that Titan may have liquid water on its surface. The Cassini space mission will land a probe, or special landing craft, on Titan to try to answer these and other questions.

Does it have any special features?

  1. The Rings
    The beautiful rings that are Saturn’s most famous feature are absolutely huge. The rings are about 260000 kilometers. in diameter. That is two-thirds of the distance from Earth to the Moon. The rings are very, very thin when compared to their width. They average less than 15 meters thick. This explains why the rings seem to disappear when Saturn is viewed from the edge.
    There are several gaps in the rings and even the parts that appear to be solid are not solid at all, but are made up of billions of snowballs, ranging from the size of a cricket ball to bigger than a house. The gaps in Saturn’s rings are caused by the many moons that circle the giant planet. The moons keep the rings lined up. One of the bands in Saturn’s rings is braided, much like a pigtail.
  2. Saturn’s weight is another feature. In spite of its huge size Saturn is weighs very little. It is a very light gas planet. Saturn is so light that it could float in water.

Resources Used
Astronomy for Kids www.dustbunny.com/afk/
Small Worlds David Drew: Nelson, 1989
The Gas Giants David Drew: Nelson, 1989

Solar System Unit  |  Classification  |  Glossary

Images from: Astronomy Picture of the Day

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