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Composite true-color image of Saturn by spacecraft Cassini.
Known to the ancients
Name origin Roman god of harvest
Orbital characteristics
Celestial class Planet
Primary Sun
Order from primary 7
Perihelion 1,352,550,000 km9.041 AU
840,435,606.061 mi
Aphelion 1,514,500,000 km10.124 AU
941,066,670.643 mi
Semi-major axis 1,433,530,000 km9.583 AU
890,754,245.208 mi
Titius-Bode prediction 10.0 AU
Circumference 59.879 AU8,957,770,857.73 km
5,566,100,757.657 mi
Orbital eccentricity 0.0565[1]
Sidereal year 10,759.22 da29.457 a[1]
Synodic year 378.09 da1.035 a[1]
Avg. orbital speed 10.183 km/s36,658.8 km/h
6.327 mi/s
22,778.722 mph
Inclination 2.485°0.0434 rad
2.761 grad
to the ecliptic[1]
Rotational characteristics
Sidereal day 10.656 h0.444 da[1]
Solar day 10.656 h0.444 da[1]
Rotation speed 9.8663 km/s35,518.68 km/h
6.131 mi/s
22,070.285 mph
Axial tilt 26.73°0.467 rad
29.7 grad
Physical characteristics
Mass 5.6846 * 1026 kg95.124 M⊕
0.299 M♃
Mean density 687.3 kg/m³0.687 g/ml
42.907 lb/ft³
Mean radius 58,232 km36,183.687 mi[1]
Equatorial radius 60,268 km37,448.799 mi[1]
Polar radius 54,364 km33,780.223 mi[1]
Surface gravity 8.96 m/s²29.396 ft/s²
0.914 g
Escape speed 35.49 km/s127,764 km/h
22.052 mi/s
79,388.869 mph
Surface area 42,612,000,000 km²16,452,585,179.811 mi²
83.541 A⊕
0.685 A♃
Mean temperature 134 K-139.15 °C
-218.47 °F
241.2 °R
Number of moons 60
Composition hydrogen 96.3%, helium 3.25%, methane 4500 ppm, ammonia 125 pm, hydrogen deuteride 110 ppm, ethane 1.5 ppm, plus aerosols of ammonia ice, water ice, and ammonia hydrosulfide[1]
Color #FFE99A
Albedo 0.47[1]
Magnetic flux density 0.210 G2.1e-5 T[1]
Magnetic dipole moment at present 4.6 * 1025 N-m/T[4][5]
Magnetic dipole moment at creation 1.34 * 1026 N-m/T[5]
Decay time 5300 a1,935,825 da[5]
Half life 3700 a1,351,425 da[3]
170592main pia08362 full.jpg

Saturn is the sixth planet from the sun and the second largest planet in the solar system. Saturn is a gas giant with an atmosphere predominantly of hydrogen, with a small fraction of helium and trace amounts of several other compounds.[1] The most prominent feature of Saturn is its ring system, which has been known to astronomy since less than half a century after the invention of the telescope and was for more than three centuries the only ring system known to man.


Ancient knowledge and naming

Saturn has been known to post-diluvian man since the beginnings of recorded history.[6] The Hindus called Saturn Sani, one of nine objects called the Navagraha that constituted a celestial council. (The other eight members of this council were the Sun, the Moon, the modern planets Mars, Venus, Mercury, and Jupiter, and the ascending and descending nodes of the Moon's orbit, which the Hindus named Rahu and Ketu.) The Hindus feared Sani above all other objects, believing that he could burn any object instantly by merely glancing at it.[7]

The ancient Greeks regarded this object, the furthest moving object that they knew, as the father of all the classical gods. They named him Kronos,[6] a word closely akin to chronos, which means time. That Jupiter is far more prominent in the sky was a sign to the Greeks that Zeus, the most prominent son of Kronos, had deposed him, even as Kronos had deposed his own father, Ouranos (Uranus).

The Romans named this deity Saturnus and regarded him not merely as the father of the gods but also as the patron of agriculture and the harvest. His symbol, a stylized rendering of a sickle, reflects that association. The name Saturn also appears in the name of Saturday, the English name for the seventh day of the week.[6]

Orbital characteristics

Saturn's orbit is about 3.4 times as eccentric as Earth's orbit. Saturn keeps an average orbital distance of 1,433,530,000 km from the sun, a distance close to that predicted by the Titius-Bode Law.[1] Saturn's orbit is slightly inclined to the ecliptic, with the result that the Earth passes from one side to the other of Saturn's ring plane every so often.[6] Saturn's sidereal period is about 29.4 Earth years. Its synodic period is 378.09 days.

Physical characteristics

Saturn's volumetric mean radius is 58,232 km. Remarkably, Saturn is less dense than water. Its chief constituent is molecular hydrogen, followed by helium, methane, ammonia, hydrogen deuteride, and ethane. Aerosols of ammonia ice, water ice, and ammonia hydrosulfide complete Saturn's composition.

Saturn has high winds, which blow easterly at 500 m/s at the equator.[8]


Saturn has a magnetic dipole moment of 4.6 * 1025 N-m/T, less than one-thirtieth of that of Jupiter. Remarkably, the magnetic axis deviates only slightly from the rotational axis. The magnetophere extends slightly beyond the orbit of Titan, and Titan's upper atmosphere contributes plasma particles to the Saturnine magnetosphere.[4]

Ring system

Saturn’s ring system is the brightest in all the solar system, with an albedo varying from 0.2 to 0.6, often brighter than the planet itself.[6]

The rings have radii varying from 60,268 km to 483,000 km. Saturn's rings divide into seven portions, designated D, C, B, A, F, G, and E from inner to outer. A wide gap called the Cassini Division separates the B and A rings, and the A rings themselves have two gaps, called the Encke and Keeler gaps.[9]

The two Voyager spacecraft sent back cinematic images that showed that the rings were spoked, and that the spokes persist, especially in the B ring system.[6][8] Current theories suggest that the spokes result from magnetic interaction, because the rings all lie well within Saturn's magnetosphere. Furthermore, the F ring appears to be braided, a phenomenon that remains unexplained today.[6]

Many of the innermost moons of Saturn orbit close to the rings, especially the F and E rings, and serve to regularize their structure, a phenomenon called "shepherding."[8]

Problems for uniformitarian theories

The origin of Saturn's rings remains a mystery[6][8], and a troublesome one. The rings are not stable and hence could not have persisted for the whole of the assumed deep time age of the solar system.[6] Uniformitarians admit that Saturn's rings could not be older than about 100 million years.[6] They therefore propose that Saturn's rings formed from the disintegration of one or more moons, perhaps following a collision with a comet.[6][8] However, Wing-Huan Ip at the Max Planck Institute calculated that a comet-moon collision would not be sufficiently likely to occur in less time than 30 billion years. This is more than twice the age of the universe calculated from the Hubble constant.[10]

Observation and Exploration

Galileo Galilei was the first astronomer to observe Saturn with a telescope but he did not realize that he was looking at a ringed planet. Only in 1659 did Christiaan Huygens understand that Saturn was ringed. For three centuries more, Saturn's ring system was the only such system known, until in 1977 NASA astronomers inferred the ring system of Uranus from a stellar occultation experiment.

Telescopic observation of Saturn has been ongoing since the earliest observations by Huygens and Giovanni Domenico Cassini. The Hubble Space Telescope and many Earth-based telescopes have taken many images of a quality comparable to that of images sent back from spacecraft.

The first spacecraft to visit Saturn was Pioneer 11 in 1979, followed by Voyager 1 (1980) and Voyager 2 (1981).[6] The spacecraft of the joint NASA/ESA Cassini-Huygens mission arrived in the Saturnine system on July 1, 2004.[6] The Huygens spacecraft landed on Saturn's largest moon, Titan, and transmitted images and data all during its descent and for three hours after landing. The Cassini spacecraft continues to orbit Saturn and make frequent rendezvous with its most prominent moons to this day (May 19, 2008). Its mission was originally scheduled to run for four years, ending in July 2008, but NASA has announced a two-year extension with multiple rendezvous with Titan and additional rendezvous with Enceladus, Rhea, Dione, and Helene. Mission planners also suggest that after two years, Cassini might still have enough fuel for another two-year extension, and speak hopefully of specific future missions to Titan and Enceladus.[11]


Saturn has at least sixty confirmed satellites and three unconfirmed satellites. Of the sixty known satellites, five are "ring shepherds."[12] Two of the satellites, Epimetheus and Janus, actually exchange orbits regularly. Two of the largest moons, Tethys and Dione, each have two moons that occupy the stable libration or "Trojan" points in their respective orbits. Most of Saturn's moons lie beyond the orbit of Iapetus, the outermost of the large spheroidal moons.

Table of satellites, in order from the innermost to the outermost:
Name Perikrone Apokrone Eccentricity Sidereal month Inclination Mass Sidereal day
Mimas 181772000181,772 km0.00122 AU
112,947.884 mi
189268000189,268 km0.00127 AU
117,605.683 mi
0.02020.0202 0.94242180.942 da0.00258 a 0.02670353755551.53 °0.0267 rad
1.7 grad
3.79E+195.157656e-4 M☾3.79e+19 kg
6.342045e-6 M⊕
81425.2435222.618 h0.942 da
Enceladus 236949000236,949 km0.00158 AU
147,233.283 mi
239091000239,091 km0.0016 AU
148,564.26 mi
0.00450.0045 1.3702181.37 da0.00375 a 00 °0 rad
0 grad
1.08E+200.00147 M☾1.08e+20 kg
1.807232e-5 M⊕
118386.835232.885 h1.37 da
Tethys 294660000294,660 km0.00197 AU
183,093.236 mi
294660000294,660 km0.00197 AU
183,093.236 mi
00 1.8878021.888 da0.00517 a 0.03246312408711.86 °0.0325 rad
2.067 grad
6.18E+200.00841 M☾6.18e+20 kg
1.034138e-4 M⊕
163106.092845.307 h1.888 da
Dione 376570000376,570 km0.00252 AU
233,989.75 mi
378230000378,230 km0.00253 AU
235,021.226 mi
0.00220.0022 2.7369152.737 da0.00749 a 0.0003490658503990.02 °3.490659e-4 rad
0.0222 grad
1.1E+210.015 M☾1.1e+21 kg
1.840699e-4 M⊕
236469.45665.686 h2.737 da
Rhea 526513000526,513 km0.00352 AU
327,160.011 mi
527567000527,567 km0.00353 AU
327,814.936 mi
0.0011.0e-3 4.51754.518 da0.0124 a 0.006108652381980.35 °0.00611 rad
0.389 grad
2.309E+210.0314 M☾2.309e+21 kg
3.863795e-4 M⊕
390312108.42 h4.518 da
Titan 11866800001,186,680 km0.00793 AU
737,368.766 mi
12570600001,257,060 km0.0084 AU
781,100.871 mi
0.02880.0288 15.8515.85 da0.0434 a 0.00608317057490.349 °0.00608 rad
0.387 grad
1.34553E+231.831 M☾1.34553e+23 kg
0.0225 M⊕
1369440380.4 h15.85 da
Hyperion 13267690001,326,769 km0.00887 AU
824,416.035 mi
16354310001,635,431 km0.0109 AU
1,016,209.71 mi
0.10420.104 21.27660921.277 da0.0583 a 0.007504915783580.43 °0.0075 rad
0.478 grad
5.5E+187.484724e-5 M☾5.5e+18 kg
9.203496e-7 M⊕
Iapetus 34605150003,460,515 km0.0231 AU
2,150,264.331 mi
36620850003,662,085 km0.0245 AU
2,275,514.123 mi
0.02830.0283 79.33018379.33 da0.217 a 0.25691246589414.72 °0.257 rad
16.356 grad
1.81E+210.0246 M☾1.81e+21 kg
3.028787e-4 M⊕
6854127.81121,903.924 h79.33 da
Use a JavaScript-enabled browser to view this element. Browse the result list directly.DECADECENTURYTitan1655-03-25T00:00:000Date of discovery 25 March 165525 March 1655
16 Adar_2 5415 He
17 Abib 5658 AM

Discoverer Christiaan Huygens
Name origin First generation of Greco-Roman gods
Celestial class Large moons of Saturn, Solar system, Moon
Iapetus1671-10-25T00:00:000Date of discovery 25 October 167125 October 1671
21 Cheshvan 5432 He
21 Bul 5675 AM

Discoverer Giovanni Domenico Cassini
Name origin A Titan, god of mortality and wounding
Celestial class Large moons of Saturn, Solar system, Moon
Rhea1672-12-23T00:00:000Date of discovery 23 December 167223 December 1672
4 Teveth 5433 He
3 Teveth 5676 AM

Discoverer Giovanni Domenico Cassini
Name origin Titaness and mother of Zeus by Kronos
Celestial class Large moons of Saturn, Solar system, Moon
Dione1684-03-21T00:00:000Date of discovery 21 March 168421 March 1684
6 Nisan 5444 He
5 Abib 5687 AM

Discoverer Giovanni Domenico Cassini
Name origin Titaness, sister of Kronos, mother (by Zeus) of Aphrodite
Celestial class Large moons of Saturn, Solar system, Moon
Tethys1684-03-21T00:00:000Date of discovery 21 March 168421 March 1684
6 Nisan 5444 He
5 Abib 5687 AM

Discoverer Giovanni Domenico Cassini
Name origin Titaness, wife of Ocean and mother of all rivers
Celestial class Large moons of Saturn, Solar system, Moon
Mimas1789-07-18T00:00:000Date of discovery 18 July 178918 July 1789
24 Tammuz 5549 He
25 Tammuz 5792 AM

Discoverer William Herschel
Name origin A giant killed in action by Hephaestus in the Titan-Olympian War
Celestial class Large moons of Saturn, Solar system, Moon
Enceladus1789-08-28T00:00:000Date of discovery 28 August 178928 August 1789
6 Elul 5549 He
7 Elul 5792 AM

Discoverer William Herschel
Name origin Giant killed in action in the Titan-Olympian War
Celestial class Large moons of Saturn, Solar system, Moon
Hyperion1848-09-16T00:00:000Date of discovery 16 September 184816 September 1848
18 Elul 5608 He
17 Ethanim 5852 AM

Discoverer William Lassell, George Phillips Bond, William Cranch Bond
Name origin Member of the Titans, per an earlier suggestion by Sir John Herschel as reported by William Lassell
Celestial class Large moons of Saturn, Solar system, Moon


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 1.20 1.21 Williams, David R. "Saturn Fact Sheet." National Space Science Data Center, NASA, November 23, 2007. Accessed May 19, 2008.
  2. "Space Topics: Saturn." The Planetary Society. Accessed May 19, 2008.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Calculated
  4. 4.0 4.1 Russell, C. T., and Luhmann, J. G. "Saturn: Magnetic Field and Magnetosphere." Encyclopedia of Planetary Sciences, J. H. Shirley and R. W. Fainbridge, eds. New York: Chapman and Hall, 1997, pp. 718-719. Accessed May 19, 2008.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Humphreys, D. R. "The Creation of Planetary Magnetic Fields." Creation Research Society Quarterly 21(3), December 1984. Accessed April 29, 2008.
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 6.11 6.12 Arnett, Bill. "Entry for Saturn." The Nine 8 Planets, May 11, 2005. Accessed May 19, 2008.
  7. "Entry for Sani." Windows to the Universe, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, University of Michigan, July 19, 2001. Accessed May 19, 2008.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Hamilton, Calvin J. "Entry for Saturn." Views of the Solar System, 1997-2005. Accessed May 19, 2008.
  9. Williams, David R. "Saturnian Rings Fact Sheet." NASA, September 18, 2006. Accessed May 19, 2008.
  10. Harris, David M. "How Old are Saturn's Rings?" Creation, 12(4):40–41. September 1990. Accessed May 18, 2008.
  11. Brown, Dwayne, and Martinez, Carolina. "NASA Extends Cassini's Grand Tour of Saturn." NASA, April 15, 2008. Accessed May 16, 2008.
  12. The three unconfirmed satellites, if confirmed, would also be ring shepherds. In addition, the A ring has a large collection of "moonlets" that shepherd the other smaller particles.

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