Named for the Roman god of agriculture, Saturn is best known for its beautiful rings. The planet is so large, and relatively close that it can be easily seen with the naked eye. This made it a prominent object in ancient cultures. However it wasn't until the early 1600's that specific properties about the planet became known, arising mostly out of the advent of the telescope. Over the next several centuries we came to know a great deal about the gas giant. Below are some of the most interesting facts about Saturn and its surrounding moons.
1. Saturn's Rings Are Made Primarily of Ice and Dust particles.
Despite the fact that the rings of Saturn look like continuous hoops of matter encircling the giant planet, each ring is actually made of tiny individual particles. About 93% of the matter composing the rings is water-based ice, some chunks as large as a modern car; however, most of the pieces are the size of dust particles.
2. It isn't Clear How The Rings Formed
Some posit that the rings are actually the remnants of a moon that was ripped apart by the gravity of Saturn. Others believe, however, that the rings formed naturally, alongside the planet in the early solar system from the original solar nebula.
3. Saturn Has At Least 62 Moons
In the inner part of the solar system, the terrestrial worlds (Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars) have few if any moons. However, the outer planets are surrounded my tens of moons. Many are small, potentially passing asteroids trapped by the planets' massive gravitational pulls. Others, though, appear to have formed out of material from the early solar system and remained trapped by the forming giants nearby.
4. Saturn, On Average, is Less Dense Than Water
While Saturn has nearly 764 times the volume of Earth, its mass is only 95 times as great. This means that Saturn's average density is about 0.687 grams per cubic centimeter, significantly less than that of water.
5. It Takes Nearly 30 Earth-Years for Saturn to Orbit the Sun
Talk about time seeming to drag on... Saturn, being farther from the Sun than Earth, takes significantly longer to orbit the Sun than our tiny orb. At 29.4571 years per orbit, Saturn will orbit the Sun a few times in our lifetime.
6. Saturn's Largest Moon, Titan, is Bigger than the Planet Mercury.
Titan is the second largest moon in our solar system, behind only Jupiter's Ganymede. Because of its gravity and gas production Titan is the only moon in the solar system with an appreciable atmosphere.
7. Saturn's "Day" is About 10 hours, 32 minutes and 35 seconds on Earth.
It is difficult to quantify the rotational period of Saturn because, like Jupiter, different regions of the planet rotate at different rates. On average though, Saturn's day, at a little over 10 and a half hours "Earth time" is significantly shorter than our day on Earth. This means that the large gas giant rotates at a significantly more rapid rate than Earth.