Saturn with Rings (3D)

Saturn with Rings (3D) thumbnail


Saturn was the only known ringed planet until 1977 when faint rings were detected around Uranus. Saturn is probably best known for its spectacular rings, but Saturn has many other unique features. On SOS Explorer, we have been able to model those rings based on information from NASA's Cassini spacecraft mission. Learn more about Cassini and Saturn's rings in this NYTimes article.

Saturn is actually not a spherical planet. Most of the gas planets, in fact, flatten slightly and become oblate due to their rapid rotation. This characteristic is most pronounced on Saturn, where the equatorial diameter can be as much as 10% longer than its polar diameter. This variability in Saturn's diameter is due to its gassy composition of 75% hydrogen, 25% helium with traces of water, methane, ammonia, and rock. Saturn has a small rocky core, then a layer of liquid metallic hydrogen and a layer of molecular hydrogen.

Like Jupiter and the other gas planets, Saturn has a banded appearance in its coloration due to high winds in the atmosphere. The bands are not as distinct as those on Jupiter, however, they are very wide at the equator and easy to detect. Another similarity to Jupiter is the storms that are visible on Saturn's surface in the form of white or red ovals. However, none of these storms seem to be as long-lived as the Great Red Spot on Jupiter. Saturn also has distinctive storms producing more turbulent looking white clouds that appear on occasion (seen faintly here). Another notable feature of Saturn's atmosphere is a hexagon shaped feature near the north pole, caused by a wave motion in the winds are they circle around the pole. This view of Saturn is designed to be in true color to match its visual appearance in a telescope.