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  • Arushi Srivastava

The Ringed Planet

Embellished with thousands of alluring ringlets, Saturn is amongst the most unique planets to exist. Being the second-largest after Jupiter and the sixth planet in the Solar System, it is at an average distance of 886 million miles away from the Sun.

This stupendous planet does not really have a surface. It is mostly just a massive ball of swirling gases like hydrogen and helium, and liquids deeper down. Fast blowing winds in the upper atmosphere reach up to a speed of 50 km/hr, which combined with the interior heat from within the planet, form beautiful yellow and gold bands.

While a spacecraft would have nowhere to land here, it wouldn’t be able to fly past intact either. The extreme temperatures and pressure within, would crush, melt and eventually destroy any space shuttle trying to fly into the planet.


This planet is also the least dense in the Solar System, with a density of only 0.687 g/cm3- which is even less than that of water. To illustrate, if Saturn was put in a pool of water, it would float just like an apple! Saturn is home to a tremendous array of intriguing and unique worlds. From the haze-cloaked surface of Titan to crater-filled Phoebe, each of its moons has a different tale. Currently, Saturn has 53 confirmed moons with 29 additional provisional moons awaiting confirmation which makes it the planet to have the most moons.


Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is an icy world of which the surface is completely covered by a golden hazy atmosphere which is one of the most Earth-like places in the solar system. This mammoth moon is larger than the planet mercury. It has a very dense atmosphere and is the only world besides Earth to have standing bodies of liquid, including rivers, lakes and seas on its surface. Although there is no verification of life on Titan, its unique environment and characteristics make it a destination for exploration.


The planet is best-known for the presence of its bright, distinctive rings that circle its equator. They were first discovered by astronomer, Galileo Galilei in 1610. Made of chunks of rock, ice and other dust particles, it is believed to have been formed from asteroids, comets or even moons - that were forced apart from the planet’s gravity before resting on it. Earlier, these rings were misunderstood to be moons by some astronomers.


Their significance, however, goes beyond their beauty which can jumpstart a lifetime of interest in astronomy. The rings are about 73,000 kilometres wide and 10 metres thick. They are not solid; many NASA spacecraft have flown right through them. An interesting mystery about them is that they can be young or old. It could be that they were formed at the beginning of the solar system, about 4.5 billion years ago or they are just 100 million years old. Its origin is yet to be understood. Sometimes the rings appear to vanish. When they are fully open, we see the rings in full glory. However, at times we see the edge of rings which makes it look like the ringlets have disappeared! This last happened in the years 2008-2009 and will happen again in 2024-2025.


The impressiveness of this spectacular planet does not stop here. It is believed that while life may not be feasible on the planet due to its extremely hostile conditions, life near it is very much possible. Some of its moons, like Enceladus and Titan, could possibly support life. Saturn has only been visited four times and hopefully, with further research, we too can soon go live upon its moons!


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