Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second largest planet in the Solar System, after Jupiter. Saturn is named after the Roman god Saturn, equated to the Greek Cronus (the Titan father of Zeus), the Babylonian Ninurta and the Hindu Shani. Saturn's symbol represents the Roman god's sickle.
Saturn, along with Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune, is classified as a gas giant. Together, these four planets are sometimes referred to as the Jovian, meaning "Jupiter-like", planets. Saturn has an average radius about 9 times larger than the Earth's. While only 1/8 the average density of Earth, due to its larger volume, Saturn's mass is just over 95 times greater than Earth's.
Because of Saturn's large mass and resulting gravitation, the conditions produced on Saturn are extreme if compared to Earth. The interior of Saturn is probably composed of a core of iron, nickel, silicon and oxygen compounds, surrounded by a deep layer of metallic hydrogen, an intermediate layer of liquid hydrogen and liquid helium and finally, an outer gaseous layer.
Electrical current within the metallic-hydrogen layer is thought to give rise to Saturn's planetary magnetic field, which is slightly weaker than Earth's magnetic field and approximately one-twentieth the strength of the field around Jupiter.
The outer atmosphere is generally bland in appearance, although long-lived features can appear. Wind speeds on Saturn can reach 1,800 km/h, significantly faster than those on Jupiter.
Saturn has nine rings, consisting mostly of ice particles with a smaller amount of rocky debris and dust. Sixty-two known moons orbit the planet; fifty-three are officially named. This is not counting hundreds of "moonlets" within the rings. Titan, Saturn's largest and the Solar System's second largest moon (after Jupiter's Ganymede), is larger than the planet Mercury and is the only moon in the Solar System to possess a significant atmosphere.
Saturn's rings require at least a 15 mm diameter telescope to resolve and thus were not known to exist until Galileo first saw them in 1610. He thought of them as two moons on Saturn's sides. It was not until Christian Huygens used greater telescopic magnification that this notion was refuted. Huygens also discovered Saturn's moon Titan.
Some time later, Giovanni Domenico Cassini discovered four other moons: Iapetus, Rhea, Tethys and Dione.
In 1675, Cassini also discovered the gap now known as the Cassini Division.
No further discoveries of significance were made until 1789 when William Herschel discovered two further moons, Mimas and Enceladus. The irregularly shaped satellite Hyperion, which has a resonance with Titan, was discovered in 1848 by a British team.
In 1899 William Henry Pickering discovered Phoebe, a highly irregular satellite that does not rotate synchronously with Saturn as the larger moons do. Phoebe was the first such satellite found and it takes more than a year to orbit Saturn in a retrograde orbit.
During the early 20th century, research on Titan led to the confirmation in 1944 that it had a thick atmosphere - a feature unique among the solar system's moons.
Pioneer 11 Flyby
Saturn was first visited by Pioneer 11 in September 1979. It flew within 20,000 km of the planet's cloud tops. Low resolution images were acquired of the planet and a few of its moons; the resolution of the images was not good enough to discern surface features. The spacecraft also studied the rings; among the discoveries were the thin F-ring and the fact that dark gaps in the rings are bright when viewed towards the Sun, in other words, they are not empty of material. Pioneer 11 also measured the temperature of Titan. The Pioneer images of Saturn were significantly dimmer as the planet and its moons only receive 14.90 (Solar Irradiance) where Jupiter gets around 400. Camera technology would be improved in subsequent missions to the planet.
In November 1980, the Voyager 1 probe visited the Saturn system. It sent back the first high-resolution images of the planet, its rings and satellites. Surface features of various moons were seen for the first time. Voyager 1 performed a close flyby of Titan, greatly increasing our knowledge of the atmosphere of the moon. It also proved that Titan's atmosphere is impenetrable in visible wavelengths; so, no surface details were seen. The flyby also changed the spacecraft's trajectory out from the plane of the solar system.
Almost a year later, in August 1981, Voyager 2 continued the study of the Saturn system. More close-up images of Saturn's moons were acquired, as well as evidence of changes in the atmosphere and the rings. Unfortunately, during the flyby, the probe's turnable camera platform stuck for a couple of days and some planned imaging was lost. Saturn's gravity was used to direct the spacecraft's trajectory towards Uranus.
The probes discovered and confirmed several new satellites orbiting near or within the planet's rings. They also discovered the small Maxwell Gap (a gap within the C Ring) and Keeler gap (a 42 km wide gap in the A Ring).
On July 1, 2004, the Cassini-Huygens space probe performed the SOI (Saturn Orbit Insertion) maneuver and entered into orbit around Saturn. Before the SOI, Cassini had already studied the system extensively. In June 2004, it had conducted a close flyby of Phoebe, sending back high-resolution images and data.
Cassini's flyby of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, has captured radar images of large lakes and their coastlines with numerous islands and mountains. The orbiter completed two Titan flybys before releasing the Huygens probe on December 25, 2004. Huygens descended onto the surface of Titan on January 14, 2005, sending a flood of data during the atmospheric descent and after the landing.
During 2005, Cassini conducted multiple flybys of Titan and icy satellites. Cassini's last Titan flyby started on March 23, 2008.
Since early 2005, scientists have been tracking lightning on Saturn. The power of the lightning is approximately 1000 times that of lightning on Earth.
In 2006, NASA reported that the Cassini probe found evidence of liquid water reservoirs that erupt in geysers on Saturn's moon Enceladus. Images had also shown particles of water in its liquid state emitted by icy jets and towering plumes.
Cassini probe photographs have led to other significant discoveries. They have revealed a previously undiscovered planetary ring, outside the brighter main rings of Saturn and inside the G and E rings. The source of this ring is believed to be the crashing of a meteoroid off two of the moons of Saturn.
In July 2006, Cassini images provided evidence of hydrocarbon lakes near Titan's north pole, the presence of which were confirmed in January 2007. In March 2007, additional images near Titan's north pole discovered hydrocarbon "seas", the largest of which is almost the size of the Caspian Sea.
In October 2006, the probe detected a 8,000 km diameter hurricane with an eyewall at Saturn's South Pole.
From 2004 to November 2, 2009, the probe discovered and confirmed 8 new satellites. Its primary mission ended in 2008 when the spacecraft had completed 74 orbits around the planet. The probe's mission was extended to September 2010 and then extended again to 2017, to study a full period of Saturn's seasons.
The moons of Saturn are numerous and diverse, ranging from tiny moonlets less than 1 kilometre across, to the enormous Titan, which is larger than the planet Mercury. Saturn has sixty-two moons with confirmed orbits, fifty-three of which have names, and only thirteen of which have diameters larger than 50 kilometres.
Before the advent of telescopic photography, eight moons of Saturn were discovered by direct observation using optical telescopes. Saturn's largest moon, Titan, was discovered in 1655 by Christiaan Huygens using a 57-millimeter (2.2 in) objective lens on a refracting telescope of his own design. Tethys, Dione, Rhea and Iapetus (the "Sidera Lodoicea") were discovered in 1671-1672 by Giovanni Domenico Cassini. Mimas and Enceladus were discovered in 1789 by William Herschel. Hyperion was discovered in 1848 by W.C. Bond, G.P. Bond and William Lassell.
The use of long-exposure photographic plates made possible the discovery of additional moons. The first to be discovered in this manner, Phoebe, was found in 1899 by W.H. Pickering.
In 1966 the tenth satellite of Saturn was discovered by Audouin Dollfus, when the rings were observed edge-on near an equinox. It was later named Janus. A few years later it was realized that all observations of 1966 could only be explained if another satellite had been present and that it had an orbit similar to that of Janus. This object is now known as Epimetheus, the eleventh moon of Saturn. It shares the same orbit with Janus - the only known example of co-orbitals in the Solar System.
In 1980 three additional Saturnian moons were discovered from the ground and later confirmed by the Voyager probes. They are trojan moons of Dione (Helene) and Tethys (Telesto and Calypso).
Saturn has seven moons that are large enough to become spherical, and dense rings with complex orbital motions of their own. Particularly notable among Saturn's moons are Titan, the second largest moon in the Solar System, with a nitrogen-rich Earth-like atmosphere and a landscape including hydrocarbon lakes and dry river networks, and Enceladus, which emits jets of gas and dust and may harbor liquid water under its south pole region.
Twenty-four of Saturn's moons are regular satellites; they have prograde orbits not greatly inclined to Saturn's equatorial plane. They include the seven major satellites, four small moons which exist in a Trojan orbit with larger moons, two mutually co-orbital moons and two moons which act as shepherds of Saturn's F Ring.
Two other known regular satellites orbit within gaps in Saturn's rings. The relatively large Hyperion is locked in a resonance with Titan. The remaining regular moons orbit near the outer edge of the A Ring, within G Ring and between the major moons Mimas and Enceladus. The regular satellites are traditionally named after Titans and Titanesses or other figures associated with the mythological Saturn.
The remaining thirty-eight, all small except one, are irregular satellites, whose orbits are much farther from Saturn, have high inclinations, and are mixed between prograde and retrograde. These moons are probably captured minor planets, or debris from the breakup of such bodies after they were captured, creating collisional families.
The irregular satellites have been classified by their orbital characteristics into the Inuit, Norse, and Gallic groups, and their names are chosen from the corresponding mythologies. The largest of the irregular moons is Phoebe, the ninth moon of Saturn, discovered at the end of the 19th century.
The rings of Saturn are made up of objects ranging in size from microscopic to hundreds of meters, each of which is on its own orbit about the planet. Thus a precise number of Saturnian moons cannot be given, as there is no objective boundary between the countless small anonymous objects that form Saturn's ring system and the larger objects that have been named as moons.
At least 150 moonlets embedded in the rings have been detected by the disturbance they create in the surrounding ring material, though this is thought to be only a small sample of the total population of such objects.
Titan (or Saturn VI) is the largest moon of Saturn. It is the only natural satellite known to have a dense atmosphere, and the only object other than Earth for which clear evidence of stable bodies of surface liquid has been found.
Titan is the sixth ellipsoidal moon from Saturn. Frequently described as a planet-like moon, Titan has a diameter 50% larger than the Moon and is 80% more massive. It is the second-largest moon in the Solar System, after Jupiter's moon Ganymede, and is larger by volume than the smallest planet, Mercury, although only 40% as massive. Discovered in 1655 by the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens, Titan was the first known moon of Saturn, and the fifth known satellite of another planet.
Titan is primarily composed of water ice and rocky material. Much as with Venus prior to the Space Age, the dense, opaque atmosphere prevented understanding of Titan's surface until new information accumulated with the arrival of the Cassini–Huygens mission in 2004, including the discovery of liquid hydrocarbon lakes in Titan's polar regions. The geologically young surface is generally smooth, with few known impact craters, although mountains and several possible cryovolcanoes have been found.
The atmosphere of Titan is largely composed of nitrogen; minor components lead to the formation of methane and ethane clouds and nitrogen-rich organic smog. The climate - including wind and rain - creates surface features similar to those of Earth, such as dunes, rivers, lakes, seas (probably of liquid methane and ethane), and deltas, and is dominated by seasonal weather patterns as on Earth. With its liquids (both surface and subsurface) and robust nitrogen atmosphere, Titan's methane cycle is viewed as an analogy to Earth's water cycle, although at a much lower temperature.
Titan was discovered on March 25, 1655, by the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens. Huygens was inspired by Galileo's discovery of Jupiter's four largest moons in 1610 and his improvements in telescope technology. Christiaan, with the help of his brother Constantijn Huygens, Jr., began building telescopes around 1650. Christiaan Huygens discovered this first observed moon orbiting Saturn with the first telescope they built.
Iapetus is the third-largest natural satellite of Saturn, and eleventh-largest in the Solar System Iapetus has a radius of about 42%, a density of about 32.5%, and a mass of about 2.5% of that of the Moon. Iapetus is best known for its dramatic 'two-tone' coloration, but discoveries by the Cassini mission in 2007 have revealed several other unusual physical characteristics, such as an equatorial ridge that runs about halfway around Iapetus.
Iapetus was discovered by Giovanni Domenico Cassini, an Italian–French astronomer, in October 1671. He had discovered it on the western side of Saturn and tried viewing it on the eastern side some months later, but was unsuccessful. The pattern continued the following year as he was able to observe it on the western side, but not the eastern side. Cassini finally observed Iapetus on the eastern side in 1705 with the help of an improved telescope, finding it two magnitudes dimmer on that side.
Cassini correctly surmised that Iapetus has a bright hemisphere and a dark hemisphere, and that it is tidally locked, always keeping the same face towards Saturn. This means that the bright hemisphere is visible from Earth when Iapetus is on the western side of Saturn, and that the dark hemisphere is visible when Iapetus is on the eastern side. The dark hemisphere was later named Cassini Regio in his honor.
2-Tone Saturn Moon Caught in Hi-Res National Geographic - October 9, 2007
The first ever high-resolution images of Saturn's moon Iapetus have helped unlock the mystery of the satellite's oddly mottled surface. The walnut-shaped moon has long been known to have dark areas and bright ones. But the detailed new images captured by NASA's Cassini orbiter in September and released yesterday reveal that Iapetus's two-tone color scheme is seen even at the crater level. That is, one side of a crater might be dark, while the other is white. Furthermore, the dark is very dark, while the white is frosty bright.
'Black and white moon' less grey BBC - October 9, 2007
Scientists think they are close to solving the mystery over why Saturnian moon Iapetus has a two-tone appearance. The satellite has a black surface facing in the direction it travels, and a white surface bringing up the rear. New data from the Cassini spacecraft seems to confirm Iapetus is picking up dusty material on its bow front. But, say the mission's scientists, this material is then being warmed by the Sun's rays, making it go even darker as it loses water vapor.
Saturn's Moon Iapetus Is The Yin-yang Of The Solar System Science Daily - September 18, 2007
Cassini scientists are poring through hundreds of images returned from the 10 September fly-by of Saturn's two-toned moon Iapetus. The pictures show the moon's yin and yang - a white hemisphere resembling snow, and the other as black as tar. Recently returned Images show a surface that is heavily cratered, along with the mountain ridge that runs along the moon's equator. Many of the close-up observations focused on studying the strange 20-km high mountain ridge that gives the moon a walnut-shaped appearance.
Iapetus in 3D - Equatorial Ridge NASA - September 15, 2007
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