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Saturn

Distance from sun 1,426.98 million km, 9.5388 a.u.
Diameter 120,536 km, 9.41 times earth's diameter
Mass 95.181 times earth's mass
Density 0.69
Gravity 0.923 times earth's gravity, escape velocity 35.5 km/s
Rotation 10.233 hours
Orbit Eccentricity 0.056
Orbit Inclination 2.488 degrees
Axis Tilt 26.73 degrees
Sidereal Period 29.458 Earth years
Synodic Period 378.09 Earth days

History: Saturn was long thought to mark the outer boundary of the solar system until 1781 with the discovery of Uranus. Because of its slow, 30 year orbit around the sun, the romans named it after Saturn, god of agriculture and time.

Description: Saturn is the second largest planet in the solar system, one of five gas giants about ten times the size of the earth. It has a very low density, and because of this, you would only weigh about 92 percent of what you weigh on earth. It also is the second fastest planet in rotation, doing so in about ten hours. Saturn, like Jupiter, has an atmosphere of mostly hydrogen and helium with a few trace elements. Because it is so much further away and thus colder than Jupiter, little chemical reactions occur in its atmosphere, causing the colors to be duller, usually yellow and white. A high altitude haze surrounding Saturn also reduces the contrast of colors of the atmosphere, which experiences frequent storms much like those on Jupiter. Saturn has the most complex ring structure in the solar system, with two bright and one faint set of rings, with thousands not visible from earth. The two main rings are divided by a dark band known as the Cassini division. The rings are made up of billions of particles of rock and ice varying greatly in size, and each ring is hundreds of thousands of kilometers wide and a hundred meters thick. The rings lie at Saturn's equator, so that at some times they are tilted and appear very bright while at others they are seen edge on and are nearly invisible.

Observation: Saturn is much dimmer than Jupiter, only reaching a magnitude of about 0, and at closest oppositions has an angular size of 20 minutes. Because of its 12.5 month synodic period, Saturn is visible for most of the year. Also because of its slow orbit, about 30 years, it can be seen in the same constellation for almost two years at a time. One or two of Saturn's rings are visible through a moderate size telescope, along with the Cassini division. Every 15 to 17 years, earth passes through the ring plane of Saturn, when they are viewed edge on and are therefore invisible. They occur in sets of three at very close intervals of about four months. A moderate to large telescope is required to view any of Saturn's satellites.

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