Introduction to Saturn
In mythology, Saturn is the Roman god of agriculture. The name also refers to the father of the Greek god Zeus. Because Zeus and Jupiter are the same entity, Saturn might well be attached in mythology with an importance equal to or greater than that of Jupiter. Jupiter is Saturn’s mythical son; without Saturn, Jupiter would never have been born, or would have turned out much different. (Of course, this is only according to the ancient myths; we know better than to believe that those tales are true.)
Before telescopes revealed the ring system, the name Saturn was associated with old age and dullness. If it were not for the rings, Saturn would indeed be a somewhat less interesting version of Jupiter, at least from an observational point of view.
The Year And The Day
Saturn orbits the Sun at a distance of 9.54 AU (Fig. 7-4). It orbital radius is about 1,430 million kilometers (888 million miles). The best viewing of Saturn is done when the planet is at opposition. Saturn is almost twice as far away from the Sun as is Jupiter, and the ringed planet receives only 1.1 percent as much sunlight per unit area as Earth. Saturn reflects sunlight well, and this is enhanced by the ring system. Saturn looks similar to Jupiter with the unaided eye but is somewhat dimmer, comparing favorably with Mars most of the time. Saturn is easy to relocate once you have found it on any given night.
Saturn, like Jupiter, does not pass through phases; it always appears full or almost full. Its brilliance in the sky, as we see it, changes because its distance from us varies. In general, the greater the angle between Saturn and the Sun, the brighter Saturn appears as seen from Earth. The brilliance of Saturn is also affected by the angle at which the rings are presented to us. If the rings are edge-on, the planet looks dimmer at a given distance from us than if the rings are seen from above or below. Saturn takes 29½ Earth years to make a complete revolution around the Sun with respect to the distant stars. Thus Saturn reaches an opposition approximately once every 12½ Earth months.
Saturn, like Jupiter, rotates rapidly on its axis. The complete day, midnight to midnight, lasts for about 10 hours and 40 minutes Earth time, as determined by observations of the magnetic field. The planet’s upper clouds rotate slightly faster than this at latitudes near the equator. Near the poles, the atmosphere appears to rotate at about the same speed as the planet’s magnetic field.
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