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The Planet SaturnSaturn

The Ringed Planet. The planet Saturn is an icon of outer space, much featured in sci-fi spacey imagery as well as in scientific matters. It's a big planet, much bigger than the Earth, but smaller than Jupiter. Although Saturn has a density of less than water, and is a "gas giant", this does not mean you can fly through it. The planet is a giant ocean of compressed gas and fluid, with storms in an atmosphere of extraordinary depth, to which there is no true "surface" as such.

In contrast to the large fluidic and ornamental planet Saturn, many worlds of a solid nature are in orbit around the planet. One of these, TitanImage from the surface of Titan, is bigger than the planet Mercury though smaller than Mars, and as Titan has a thick atmosphere, there was much speculation about what was hidden on the surface. A spacecraft was sent, and made a soft landing, revealing the surface of Titan to have mountains and lakes! (lakes of lighter-fluid, not water, as it's too cold for that). The Cassini-Huygens probe sent back spectacular views of a world hitherto unseen except as a distant globe. The surface looks like stones and pebbles in a shallow stream-bed. See www.bbc.co.uk/titan

A few helpful Saturnian links:




Cassini-Huygens Mission to Saturn and Titan




Solar System Exploration - Planets - Saturn


BBC - Science & Nature - Space - Saturn


Saturn's moons:

Saturn's moons include Titan (the largest), Rhea, Iapetus, Enceladus, Mimas, Tethys, Pan, Hyperion, Phoebe, Dione, Helene, Calypso, Pandora, Prometheus, Epimetheus, and various others with romantic Greek/Mythical/Ancient names, plus a few small ones named in a later era, with less inspiring alphanumeric coded names. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moons_of_Saturn

How many Moons has Saturn?:

If any quiz question asks how many moons Saturn has, bear in mind the answer on the card is probably out of date. There are several dozen moons of Saturn, and more are being discovered all the time.

Age of Saturn's Rings:

There are a variety of different opinions about the age of Saturn's rings, and serious estimates ages of Saturn's rings range from a few million years to thousands of millions of years. It's generally accepted that the rings were formed when some objects collided and broke into little bits which all got spread out into orbit. Incidentally, just about everyone is sure the planet Saturn itself is thousand of millions of years old, as is the Earth. Now let's get this in perspective: The Universe is about 15 thousand million years old, the planets of the solar system are about 5 thousand million years old, and it doesn't matter how old the rings of Saturn are. I mean, just supposing there was a catastrophic crash of asteroids with moons around Jupiter tomorrow and suddenly Jupiter had spectacular rings, then in a year's time would we hear some deluded religious believers saying "The rings of Jupiter are only a year old so therefore Jupiter is only a year old and so the Universe is only a year old!"?.

Now that the rings of Saturn have been studied more closely, the interesting complexity of the ring-system gives an insight into the formation of the early Solar System.

The festival of Yule (Vikings, Pagans), happens to coincide with the time of a Roman festival, Saturnalia. Some say "Keep Saturn in Saturnalia" http://realitique.blogspot.com/2004/12/keep-saturn-in-saturnalia.html - as an antidote to the christianist stuff that tends to be rampant in December in Westernist societies. Saturnalia was an early Roman (c 200 BCE) festival involving much merriment and partying, and the giving of gifts. Also see Xmas

Non-copyright pictures acquired from NASA/ESA via such pages as http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Saturn_from_Cassini_Orbiter_(2004-10-06).jpg