Planets - Saturn - the second largest planet in our solar system
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14-02-2018    749 times
Saturn

Saturn

Adorned with thousands of beautiful ringlets, Saturn, the second largest planet in our solar system, is unique among the planets. Apart from the rings, made of rock fragments covered by icy gases, none of the planets are as spectacular or as complicated as Saturn. Like the other gas giant Jupiter, it is a massive ball of gases, composed mainly of hydrogen and helium. 

Similar to Earth, Saturn rotates on its axis from west to east, but rotates faster, spinning around once in just 10.7 hours. This super fast spinning on the axis causes Saturn to bulge out in the middle, making its equatorial radius nearly 10 percent wider than its polar radius. The axis of Saturn is tilted by 26.73º with respect to its orbit around the sun, which is almost similar to Earth's 23.5-degree tilt. This means that, like Earth, Saturn experiences seasons. The days in Saturn are short, while the years are long, since it takes 10,756 days to complete one revolution around the sun.

The core of Saturn has a dense core of rock, ice, water, and other compounds, which became solid by the intense pressure and heat. The core is enveloped by liquid metallic hydrogen, in a layer of liquid hydrogen. It is similar to the core of Jupiter, but considerably smaller. Saturn is the only planet in our solar system that is less dense than water. 

No spacecraft would ever find a landing space in Saturn, as it does not have a true surface, it is a giant globe of gas. Even, none of them would be able to fly through it.

The extreme pressures and temperatures deep inside the planet would crush, melt and vaporize a metal spacecraft trying to fly through the planet.

Saturn lies under the blankets of clouds, stripes and storms. Due to a mixture of yellow ammonia crystals in the upper atmosphere, its overall appearance is tan and light brown. In the equatorial region of the planet, winds in the upper atmosphere reach about 500 meters per second, while the strongest hurricane-force winds on Earth top out at about 110 meters per second. There the pressure is so powerful that, it squeezes gas into liquid. The North Pole of Saturn has a very peculiar six-sided jet stream, the sides of which are about 13,800km – more than the diameter of Earth. This interesting natural phenomenon was first found in images from the Voyager I spacecraft and has been more closely observed by the Cassini spacecraft. The six-sided unique jet stream is known as the ‘Hexagon’.   

Saturn is probably best known for its rings, which makes it visually unique. The rings are believed to be pieces of comets, asteroids or nameless shattered moons that broke up before they reached the planet, torn apart by Saturn's powerful gravity. They are made of billions of small chunks of ice and rock. The particles that make up the rings range in size from specks of dust up to 10 m. Saturn's ring system extends up to 282,000 km from the planet, yet the vertical height is typically about 10 meter in the main rings. Among the ring system are ‘braided’ rings, ringlets and ‘spokes’. According to the data provided by Voyager I, the scientists are now of the opinion that, there are about 1,000 rings round Saturn. Two tiny moons, Pan and Daphnis, orbit in gaps inside the rings and keep the gaps open. Generally, the rings are named alphabetically according to their discovery. 

Saturn

Currently Saturn has 53 confirmed moons with nine additional provisional moons awaiting confirmation. All of them are frozen worlds. The largest among the satellites, Titan, is a bit bigger than the planet Mercury. It is the second-largest moon in the solar system, only after Jupiter's moon ‘Ganymede’. Titan is a moon with complex and dense nitrogen-rich atmosphere. It is mainly composed of water, ice and rock. The frozen surface of Saturn has lakes of liquid methane and the landscape is covered with frozen nitrogen. Planetary scientists consider Titan to be a possible harbour for life, but not Earth-like life. Recent studies in 2016 suggest that Titan has surprisingly deep canyons flooded with liquid hydrocarbons. Another moon of Saturn, called ‘Enceladus’, appears to have an ocean below its frozen surface.

Compared to Jupiter, Saturn’s magnetic field is small, yet it is 578 times more powerful than the Earth’s.

It is obvious that, Saturn's environment is not at all conducive to life. The temperatures, pressures, radiation levels and materials that characterize this planet are too extreme and volatile for organisms to adapt to.

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Dibyendu Banerjee & Sudipta Banerjee
Article by Dibyendu Banerjee, an Ex-student of Scottish Church College, Kolkata. Authored several novels in Bengali and translated into Bengali novels/short stories of eminent writers of the world. Regularly contributes articles to different web sites on different subjects. Edited by Sudipta Banerjee, educated at Loreto House, Kolkata. Completed her B.A [Hons] in Geography and M.A from Presidency College, Kolkata, B.Ed from the Institution of Education for Women, Hasting House, Kolkata. Taught for 38 years, as Middle School Mistress at Victoria Boys’ School, Kuseong and as Asstt Teacher in Geography at Multipurpose Govt Girls’ School, Kolkata.
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