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Saturn - Introduction

Saturn is a favorite of the backyard astronomer. When asked what it was that influenced our curiosity, it is usually seeing Saturn for the first time in the eyepiece of a telescope. While the moons of Saturn are not as discernable in the eyepiece, the rings most certainly are. Cloud patterns are present but not as dramatic at Jupiter. Non the less, it is still a wonderful object to admire.

Much of the scientific data will no doubt be challenged by the data from the Cassini-Huygens - for example the magnetic field is much stronger than originally modeled. Such changes will have an outcome on our current internal structure and atmosphere dynamics of this planet. But much of the data remains valid.

What about the idea of Saturn floating in water? Well, the density of water is 1000 kg/m3 and Saturn has a density of only 687 kg/m3 - that means if there was a body of water large enough to hold Saturn, it would float!

Saturn - A Quick Summary: (More information can be found on the Saturn Fact Sheet)

Average Distance from Sun: 1.432 x 109 km
Eccentricity of Orbit: 0.053
Average Orbital Speed: 9.64 km/s
Orbital Period: 29.37 years
Rotational Period (equatorial): 10h 13m 59s
Inclination of Equator to Orbit 26.73
Diameter: 120,536 km
Mass: 1.899 x 1027 kg
Average Density: 687 kg/m3
Escape Speed: 35.5 km/s
Albedo: 0.46
Average Cloud-Top Temperature: -108 C
Atmospheric Composition: 96.3% hydrogen
3.3% helium
0.4% methane
water vapor
trace elements

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The Atmosphere:

The chemical composition of Saturn is similar to Jupiter but with different quantities. Compare Saturn's 96.3% hydrogen to Jupiter's 86.2% hydrogen for example. Differential rotation occurs on both planets and it is believed that the same belt and zone patterns exist:

The above black and white image enhances the cloud patterns. Saturn is smaller than Jupiter but releases 25% more internal heat resulting in wind speeds reaching up to a phenomenal 1800 km/h. The image below demonstrates the atmosphere of the Gas Giants, including Saturn:

The image above provides much information like gross composition, temperature and altitude.

One may notice immediately that the clouds of Saturn are more pale than Jupiter. While the chemical composition may cause this, the main reason is a layer of haze, composed of mostly ammonia, lies above the clouds acting as a filter.

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Internal Structures:

Saturn and Jupiter share very similar internal structures, with the only variation being content:

The interiors of both Jupiter and Saturn give them both strong magnetic fields and very large magnetospheres, mostly because only Jupiter and Saturn contain liquid metallic hydrogen.

New Images:

Resent infrared images from the Cassini orbiter revealed two interesting finds: the methane in Saturn's atmosphere gives an almost Jupiter-like appearance, and some unusual active spots have been discovered at the poles.
Methane gives Saturn a Jupiter appearance Active spots in the infrared in the polar regions on unknown origin - probably hot spots.

This February 2005 image shows the best portrait ever of the ringed planet:

This image was taken when Saturn was between the Cassini Probe and the Sun:

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