Saturn - Facts for Kids

Saturn - Facts for Kids
Saturn with an image of the Cassini spacecraft

A god of ancient Rome – Saturday is his day
In a mythical Golden Age, the elder gods were the Titans. Saturn – Cronus to the Greeks – was their chief. But a prophecy said that a child of Cronus would overthrow him. To prevent this, Cronus ate his children as they were born. However, Jupiter – Zeus to the Greeks – escaped this fate, and he did overthrow Cronus. The Olympian gods replaced the Titans, and Jupiter was their ruler.

Beautiful rings
All of our giant planets have rings, but none match the splendor of Saturn. Galileo saw them in 1610, but he didn't know what he was seeing in his little telescope. He drew Saturn with handles or moons either side of the planet. About a century later, Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens suggested that Saturn was surrounded by a ring. In fact, there are several rings and they're not solid. They're made mostly of ice particles of different sizes, from bits of dust to big boulders.

Big, dizzy and far away
Saturn is the second biggest planet in the Solar System, about 120,000 km (75,000 mi) across. It turns so fast on its axis that a day is is only 10 hrs 14 mins long. Though the days are short, the years are nearly thirty Earth years long. Saturn is 9.5 AU from the Sun. An AU (astronomical unit) is the distance from the Earth to the Sun, so it's nine and a half times farther from the Sun than we are.

Seasons and Cassini-Huygens
Like Earth and several other planets, Saturn's axis is tilted. That means it has seasons. An Earth season lasts for about three months. However, Saturn has a much longer year, and its seasons last for over seven Earth years. The Cassini-Huygens mission spent 13 years studying the planet and its rings and moons. It arrived during Saturn's northern hemisphere winter and stayed through spring and into summer.

Terrible weather.
Remember that Saturn is a long way from the Sun. It's not only cold there, but the sunlight is weak. Winds can get as high as 1800 km/h (1125 mph). The highest wind speed recorded on Earth was a tropical cyclone with gusts of 400 km/hr (250 mph). It doesn't rain on Saturn, but even without rain, thunderstorms can happen. And when Saturn has thunderstorms, there are lightning bolts thousands of times more powerful than anything on Earth.

Nowhere to stand
Saturn is a gas planet. It doesn't have a solid surface to stand on. As on Jupiter, the cloud layer gets thicker as you go deeper. The pressure also increases until the gas becomes liquid. Only the core (the center) of the planet is solid.

A gas acting like a metal
Earth has a magnetic field because of its iron core. Although Saturn also has a magnetic field, it doesn't have any metal. Scientists think that the core is surrounded by a layer of hydrogen that is severely squeezed by the extreme pressure. In these conditions hydrogen would behave like a metal.

Saturn might float if there were a big enough ocean.
Saturn is less dense than water. On Earth, objects less dense than water can float. Saturn is made mostly of hydrogen and helium, and is the least dense planet in the Solar System. Earth is the most dense, being made mostly of rock and iron. It's eight times more dense than Saturn.

Dozens of moons
As of October 2020, Saturn has 82 known moons, most of them tiny. Imagine that we add up the total mass of all the moons plus the rings. One moon would account for 96% of that mass: Titan. For many years astronomers thought Titan was the biggest Solar System moon. However, space probes found that Titan had a thick atmosphere which made the moon look bigger than it is. Jupiter's moon Ganymede is actually a bit bigger than Titan.

You Should Also Read:
Cassini-Huygens - the Prime Mission
Titan Facts for Kids
Why Planets Have Seasons

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