Saturn is a large and beautiful planet. It may be best know known for the prominent rings that surround it, which gives the planet its unusual appearance. Saturn is one of the nine planets orbiting in our solar system. It is the sixth planet from the sun in the Milky Way galaxy.
The ancient symbol for Saturn is . Astronomers still use this symbol to represent the planet. It was named after the ancient Roman god of planting and harvest. To honor Saturn, every year the ancient Romans held a joy- filled feast known as the Saturnalia. This festival began near the end of December and lasted for a week. During the festival period, prisoners were freed from jail as an act of good will; Roman armies were not permitted to start any new wars; and schools and shops remained closed to enable everyone to enjoy the festivities. Special celebrations that a number of our modern Christmas customs including Christmas dinners, holiday parties, and the practice can all be traced back to the Saturnalia.
The Italian astronomer Galileo first viewed Saturn through a telescope in 1610. When Galileo looked at Saturn through his telescope, he was surprised to see that Saturn seemed to have puffy bulges on both sides instead of being round. Galileo described Saturn with ?ears?. As time passed, new and improved telescopes were developed, so astronomers were better able to view the heavens. In 1656, a Dutch astronomer named Christain Huygens also noted the bulges on both sides of Saturn. Huygens realized that what had looked like powder puffs or ears were actually nothing of the sort. Instead, Huygens suggested that a ring surrounded the planet. At the time, Huygens believed that the ring surrounding Saturn was a solid band of some substance. This was an astonishing discovery. Before Huygens' observation, astronomers had no idea that a separate ring might surround a planet. In 1675, a French astronomer named Giovanni Domenico Cassini spent a good deal of time studying Saturn. He observed a dark band in what was thought to be a single ring and realized that the band was really a gap between two separate rings. Cassini thus identified two of Saturn's major rings.
Saturn is the second largest planet in the solar system. Only Jupiter is larger, Saturn's diameter is 74,600 miles (120, 000 kilometers). That makes the planet nearly ten times as wide as Earth. From Earth we see Saturn as a bright ?star? in our sky; it takes a telescope to see its rings. Within our solar system, Saturn is the sixth planet from the sun; Earth is the third. Saturn is about 9? farther away from the sun than the Earth. Like other planets, Saturn orbits the sun. However, because it is so far away and moves at a somewhat slow pace, Saturn needs more time than Earth to make one revolution around the sun. The Earth requires 365 days, or one year, to orbit the sun. Saturn needs nearly 29? Earth years to finish its orbit. At the same time Saturn orbits the sun it is also rotating on its axis. It takes Saturn 10 hours and 39 minutes to complete a rotation.
Saturn is actually a large whirling body of gases. It not a solid like Earth. You could not stand or drive a car on Saturn. Dark and light belts appear on Saturn's clouds. Beautifully colored bands of pale gold, beige, and white can be seen, although these bands are not as prominent as Jupiter. These areas are actually made up of mostly poisonous gases such as ammonia and methane. Some water vapor is present as well. Normally, these gases are invisible. However, because it is extremely cold this far from the sun, the gases have frozen and formed crystals. When we see the dark and light belts on Saturn, we're really looking at the frozen solid crystals of gases. Saturn's clouds are not quite motionless areas. Scientists have learned that a good deal of activity occurs in these regions. There are raging storms and powerful gusting winds. One particularly large storm on the planet may be seen just below Saturn's equator. This turbulent storm center appears as a massive rose- colored oval spot on the planet. The winds on Saturn blow continually at tremendous