Saturn's Major Characteristics

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  • 0:01 Saturn's Ears
  • 0:33 Size and Density
  • 1:26 Saturn's Layers
  • 2:27 Saturn's Moons and Rings
  • 3:44 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson will describe for you what Saturn is made of, how it compares to the Earth and Jupiter, and some interesting things about its rings and moon.

Saturn's Ears

You may have read somewhere that Saturn was the most distant planet from the sun that ancient people knew of. But did you know that Saturn has ears? Well, that's at least what good old Galileo thought when he first observed it. His telescope was kind of shoddy compared to modern ones, and so it didn't allow him to figure out that the so-called 'ears' of Saturn were actually the now very famous rings of Saturn.

Saturn has a lot of other interesting properties, other than its rings, which we'll definitely cover in this lesson as well.

Size and Density

Saturn, the second largest planet in the solar system, is an interesting character. Firstly, its diameter is more than 9 times that of Earth, and so it's pretty close to the size of Jupiter, about 85% as large.

Its mass is 95 times greater than Earth. That would be like comparing you to an African elephant. There's a big difference.

But, here's the cool thing: despite this clearly serious size and mass discrepancy, which planet do you think would float in water if you had a large enough tub to put them in? It's Saturn! Saturn's density is about 70% that of water. That's not just a neat factoid. Actually, it tells us something very important. Such a low density implies that Saturn's makeup has to be dominated by light elements, like hydrogen and helium.

Saturn's Layers

The hydrogen and helium were attracted by the protoplanet that later became Saturn by way of gravitational collapse. Gravitational collapse is a process whereby a growing celestial body captures gas from the solar nebula through gravity.

It's like the protoplanet is a sponge. Go to your kitchen and fill a little saucer with some water. Then, go find a dry sponge. When you place the dry sponge in the saucer with water, what'll happen? The water will disappear into the sponge and the sponge will swell up and get bigger because it sucked up all that water. That is sort of what a protoplanet, our sponge, does with the gas in the solar nebula as it sucks it all up and gets bigger and bigger.

As Saturn grew, heavy elements sank to the center of Saturn and formed a core. Around that core, a mantle of liquid metallic hydrogen formed. Liquid metallic hydrogen is a kind of liquid hydrogen formed under very high pressure that's partially responsible for forming a magnetic field around Saturn.

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