16 October 2016 | The Ringed Planet

Saturn August

Image credit: Peter Edwards

Image Data
  • Location: West Sussex, UK
  • Date taken: 6 August 2016 20.52 UTC
  • Camera: ZWO ASI224MC
  • Optics: Celestron C14

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This year Saturn does not rise very far above northern Europe’s horizon. This means imaging has to be done through a thicker layer of turbulent atmosphere, which is quite a challenge for planetary astrophotographers. Nevertheless, last August Peter Edwards from West Sussex (UK) was able to produce this fine image of Saturn and it’s rings.

Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and is the second largest in our Solar System. Much of what is known about the planet is due to the Voyager explorations in 1980-81.

Orbit 1 429 400 000 km (9.6 AU) mean distance from Sun
Diameter (equatorial) 120 536 km
Diameter (polar) 108 728 km
Orbital period (Saturnian year) 29.46 Earth years
Saturnian day 10 hours 39 mins
Core temperature Approx. 12 000K (11 700°C)
Cloud-top temperature 150K (-139 °C)
Average density 0.7 g per cubic cm (0.7 times that of water
Atmospheric composition 96% hydrogen and 4% helium with traces of water, methane and ammonia
Moons 34

It is different from Earth in that there is no sharp distinction between atmosphere and the planet surface. Instead there is a slow gradual change from gaseous atmosphere to liquid. The pressure increases with depth, and the hydrogen and helium gases become liquid. Saturn is visibly flattened at the poles, a result of the very fast rotation of the planet on its axis.

Thus, Saturn does not have a ‘surface’ in the same sense that the Earth does. It would be impossible to land a spacecraft, though one could be made to drop slowly with a parachute and transmit information until the intense pressure of Saturn’s atmosphere crushed it.

Source: European Space Agency – ESA

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