For Shakespeare: What About Saturn?

>> Saturday, July 25, 2009

Shakespeare said: That is too cool. And the picture! WOW! And think, I'd have forever to work every day, and I could get so much done in a year on that planet. Then again, my laptop would melt, and I would too, so the whole point is moot. Any details about Saturn? It's my personal favorite, after Earth (since Earth gives me an actual place to exist).

For any student of the solar system, I can't recommend Nine Planets website highly enough. It's always the first place I go when checking out another planet. Wikipedia has some good poop, too. So, what do they have to say about Saturn?

First, it's ironic that the arguably most beautiful planet in the solar system should be named after a God who is often used to personify old age. Not to mention Saturn's unsavory tendency to eat his own children.

Much of what we say about Saturn is comparing her to Jupiter, the titan of the gas giants. Both planets are composed primarily hydrogen (75%) and helium(25%), with traces of ammonia, methane, water and rock. Saturn is the least dense of the gas giants, at only 70% of the density of water. Like Jupiter, it is subject to visible storms (like the hexagonal storm to the left), generates it's own heat (though to a lesser extent), has a magnetic field (to a much lesser extent) and has a large number of moons. We used to say, categorically, that Saturn had the most moons actually, but they've discovered so many recently, I'm not sure we have a set number. Saturn has 34 named moons which would seem plenty, but apparently wasn't. About 200 moons have been observed, 61 in stable orbits.
Jupiter has a faint set of rings as well, but no planet in the solar system has rings as spectacular as Saturn. When astronomers first found her, she confused them as she looked oblate (and is, actually, more on that in a moment). When Earth is in plane with her rings, they "disappear" confusing those early astonomers even more.

She's quite luminous, perhaps more than her heat-generating processes can justify and her rings are particularly brilliant, presumed to be largely ice and ice-covered rocks. Saturn is not really spherical, rather a sort of flattened sphere because of her fluid state and rapid rotation (days are ~10.5 hours long, but not everything rotates at the same speed) pull her equatorial plane out a bit.

No one seems to be quite sure what creates Saturn's rings (or any other rings), but the consensus seems to be that they can't remain indefinitely, that they must be regenerated. It has also been noted that several moons are pivotal in maintaining and affecting the rings.

Really, there is so much good reading available on Saturn and her rings and her many fascinating moons. You should check out my links and learn more.


  • Shakespeare

    Thanks! I hope to check out the links (after I come back from my camping trip and get my classes started). Great details!

  • Jeff King

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • Jeff King

    Sorry copied wrong thing... here is what i wanted to leave.
    When a moon or comet approaches within the Roche limit of a planet, the tidal forces overcome the internal forces and disrupt the moon/comet. The broken pieces are distributed into a ring shape. We know that that the rings are not solid or liquid since Doppler measurements show that the rings are made of separate particles moving in circular orbits. High albedo means rings are typically made of ice (captured comets?).

    The brightness of the rings is proportional to the size of the particles in the rings. The brightest rings are made of house-sized blocks of rock/ice. The faintest rings are made of icy dust.

    Rings are very thin compared to their width. Most are only a few tens of meters to a kilometer in thickness. This is due to the fact that a particle that lies in an orbit above and below the ring must pass through the ring twice each orbit. This leads to collisions which cause the particles to exchange energy and adopt velocities and directions similar to the particles in the rings.

    Saturn's rings are the most prominent and were show by Voyager to be composed of hundreds of ringlets. Each ringlet displays a region of high or low number density of particles (note that number density is not the same as particle size). Gaps in the rings are due to orbital resonances with the outer moons.

    here is the link if anyone wishes to read up on Saturn

  • Stephanie B

    Saturn is a fascinating subject. And that's before we delve into the wonders of it's many moons. Thanks for the linkes, Jeff.

  • Aron Sora

    Could, if we really wanted to, collect the hydrogen and helium and us it as fuel? Saturn could become a important fuel station in interstellar spaceflight. Because of the gravity, the fuel would be hard to get.

    Something I don't get, why are the rings in on a plane, why doesn't Saturn have a shell of debris?

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