Spotlight on Saturn
The universe and its mysteries are hugely fascinating to many people. It's no surprise that there are so many songs that make references to Earth, space, the sun, stars, the Milky Way, and other celestial bodies.
And while the planet Saturn is possibly among the least mentioned planets in popular music, its splendidness was brought to our attention a few times in recent months, prompting a reason to write this article. For example, our pursuit of weird facts to share in our Weekly Top Picks newsletter led us to the 2018 musical composition called "The Planets" by Gustav Holst.
This composition involves seven pieces of music inspired by Earth's neighbors and the "Sounds of Saturn" is probably the most interesting, if not the eeriest.
The spacecraft Cassini made all this possible, reportedly recording the movement of plasma waves between Saturn and its ice-laden moon Enceladus. According to NASA, while there is no sound in space (due to the lack of air), the measurements of the distance between the waves were converted by scientists here on Earth into audio signals that can then be heard by the human ear. Cool right?
But Saturn's cool factor does not stop there. We decided to do a bit more digging about Saturn and why it is a planet like no other. As you have probably realized by now, while we mainly talk about music-related topics on this blog, we don't mind switching up the beat from time to time.
Back to the planet at hand; let’s explore some Saturn facts.
Saturn is ancient
Part of Saturn’s fame is that it has been talked about since ancient times. In fact, it was first mentioned in the 8th Century B.C. by the Assyrians, who gave it the nickname “Lubadsagush,”
which means oldest of the old. That’s one reason why it is often thought to be the solar system’s oldest planet. It was, however, first observed in detail by famous astronomer Galileo Galilei’s telescope in 1610.
Evidence shows that, like its gaseous cousin Jupiter, Saturn was formed shortly after our home star first ignited. This is known because, unlike smaller planets such as Uranus and Neptune, both Jupiter and Saturn are rich in helium and hydrogen leftover from the “Big Bang.” When the other planets formed, a substantial amount of the hydrogen and helium in the solar system’s primordial cloud was already accounted for as a result. Saturn is seen as a representative sampling of that cloud, a commemoration of the sun’s first dawn.
If you are familiar with the term “dead star,” Saturn is basically that, combined with gases from the dawn of time, and further sculpted by billions of years of gravity, hence its rings, which are way more defined (and more magnificent) than those of the other planets that also bear rings.
Before we get lost in details that you may or may not be interested in, let’s look at some more interesting facts relating to the planet itself and its rings.
It's the most distant planet you can actually see
Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the most distant that can be viewed with the naked eye. If you are looking for it and know where to look, there are times when you can spot it from Earth, without the assistance of a telescope. That's pretty awesome.
Saturn is pretty cold
Saturn's average surface temperatures vary from about -185 degrees Celsius (-300 degrees Fahrenheit) to -1220 degrees C (-1880 F). Unlike Earth, however, the temperature variation on Saturn is not due to the sun but rather the planet's internal processes. It actually generates more heat (if you can call it that) than it receives from the sun. Forces of compression at its core help to generate some of this heat, while another portion is attributed to friction caused by helium rain falling through the atmosphere. Together, these two processes help to maintain a surface temperature that is more-or-less uniform.
Saturn is the flattest of the planets
Saturn has a slightly flattened appearance due to its polar diameter being 10% less than its equatorial diameter, which is caused by its fast rotation and low density. There is a vortex over its south pole resembling a hurricane. The eye of this huge storm is 1,250 miles across with cloud speeds clocking around 330 miles per hour. Impressive!
There is still some dispute as it relates to the origins of the planet’s seven rings, which measure about 175,000 miles (282,000 km) across. Some scientists believe they were formed in tandem with the origin of Saturn. On the other hand, there is a thought process that gravity emanating from the planet broke up one of its moons millions of years ago to form the rings.
One of the facts about Saturn’s rings that is probably not that well known is that they are not solid structures. The rings consist of particles of dust, gases, and varying sizes of ice chunks and rocks. Some objects within the rings can be as large as entire mountains. Another interesting fact about Saturn’s rings is that their particles behave in different ways, respective of size, weight, stability, and electric charge. The icy particles, for instance, react to the planet’s magnetic field, but the rocks and dust are not pulled along by it.
Saturn’s seven rings are labeled by the alphabets D, C, B, A, F, G, and E, representative of the order in which they were discovered (outwards from the planet’s surface). Relatively close to each other, the rings are kept in place (shepherded) by Saturn’s moons. The F ring, for example, is kept in place by Prometheus and Pandora.
Another key feature of the rings is a gap caused by what is called the Cassini Division. This gap is estimated to be 2,920 miles (4,700 km) wide and separates rings B and A. It is said that the outermost ring, which was discovered in 2009, could possibly fit a billion Earths within its span.
We could go on and on.
Facts about Saturn’s rings are pretty much a topic unto themselves. We encourage you to research more on your own if you’re intrigued to know why Saturn is like no other, and if this piece has sparked your curiosity. If you want to write a song about it, you know whom to contact. We're here, always.
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