Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun. It was first discovered by the ancients. In modern times, Saturn was first observed from a telescope on Earth by the famous Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei.

Diameter: 120,563 km
Mass: 5.7 x 1025 kg
Composition: Hydrogen and helium
Orbit: 1.400,000,000 km from the Sun
Distance from other planets: View matrix

Saturn is the second-largest planet in the Solar System and it is one of the four gas giants. This title is given to those planets which are in the main composed of gaseous substances rather than of solid material such as rock. The other gas-giant planets are Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune.

Saturn is identifiable from its distinctive ring formations which surround the planet. Consisting of a series of nine full rings and three partial rings, they appear as thin, flat grey rings around the planet. Christian Huygens was the astronomer who discovered the rings, as Galileo had originally thought of them as planets associated with Saturn. Huygens also discovered Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. It was astronomer Jean-Dominique Cassini who saw a space between the rings. It was later found that a gravitational pull from Saturn’s moon Mimas created the division of the rings now known as the Cassini Division.

Saturn has as many as 62 known moons, with Titan being the largest. Most of the other moons are very small in comparison, with the majority named after Titans in Greek mythology. Titan was discovered by Christian Huygens, Cassini found four moons and it was William Herschel who discovered two other significant moons, Mimas and Enceladus. A team of astronomers from Britain first observed the moon Hyperion. In 1899, the satellite Phoebe was not only spotted for the first time, but was also found to be the only moon of Saturn that is known to orbit in a retrograde orbit.

Saturn gets its name from the Roman god of agriculture called Saturnus. In composition, the planet is a ball of hydrogen and helium. Saturn’s rings are made of a compact collection of particles of ice and rock debris. It takes Saturn 10,759 years to orbit the Sun.

Saturn was first observed from Earth with the naked eye as far back as the ancient times. In the era of Galileo, telescopes on Earth were used to study the planet and its rings. Since this time, images and data have been gathered from space missions. During 1979 and 1980, two spacecraft, Pioneer 11 and Voyager 1, passed close to Saturn. Both took photographs which showed the planet, its satellites and the rings. The Cassini-Huygens space probe has collected the most comprehensive data relating to Saturn and its moons. During this mission, Titan was seen to have land and oceans and distinctive geological features and terrain on its surface.

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