What Is Saturn: Planet Boasting Rings, Moons, and More

~12 min

Adorned with beautiful bright rings, Saturn is sometimes referred to as "the Jewel of the Solar System". In today's article, we’ll tell you more about this astonishing gas giant.


Saturn Planet Facts

  • Planet type: gas giant
  • Radius: 58,232 km (36,184 miles)
  • Mass: 5.6834×10^26 kg
  • Aphelion: 1.51 billion km (938 million miles)
  • Perihelion: 1.35 billion km (839 million miles)
  • Average distance from the Earth: 1.4 billion km (869 million miles)
  • Surface temperature: −185 °C to −122 °C (−300 °F to −188 °F)
  • Solar day length: 10 h 32 m
  • Sidereal day length: 10 h 33 m
  • Year length: 29.4571 Earth years
  • Age: 4.503 billion years
  • Named after: Roman god of agriculture

How big is Saturn?

Along with Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune, Saturn is considered a giant planet. Let's discover some curious details about the size of this amazing planet.

Saturn size

With a radius of 58,232 kilometers (36,184 miles), Saturn is the second-largest planet in our Solar System — only its fellow gas giant Jupiter is larger. To take a trip around the planet's equator, you would need to travel a distance of 365,882 kilometers (227,349 miles)!

How big is Saturn compared to the Earth?

Saturn's radius is about 9.5 times that of our planet; also, the gas giant is over 95 times more massive. To give you a better understanding of Saturn's size, let's say that about 764 Earths could fit inside this ringed planet.

Saturn's orbit and rotation

Every Solar System's planet takes a certain time to complete one orbit around the Sun and one rotation around its axis. Here on the Earth, these periods last 365.25 days and 24 hours, respectively, but on Saturn, everything is different.

How long is a day on Saturn?

Saturn has the second-shortest day in the Solar System: it takes Saturn only 10 hours 32 minutes to spin around once. Only Jupiter spins faster. Because of its high-speed rotation, Saturn bulges at the equator and flattens at the poles.

How long is a year on Saturn?

Much like Jupiter, Saturn rotates on its axis very rapidly but takes its time to complete a single orbit around the Sun. The speed with which Saturn orbits the Sun is considerably slow. A single year on the planet lasts 29.4571 Earth years or 10,759 Earth days.

How far away is Saturn?

Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun. Billions of kilometers separate it from the Sun and the Earth.

How far is Saturn from the Sun?

The ringed planet orbits the Sun at a distance of about 9.5 AU — 9.5 times the distance between the Earth and our star. This distance equals 1.486 billion kilometers (923 million miles).

How far is Saturn from the Earth?

As Saturn and the Earth travel through space, the distance between them is constantly changing. At the closest approach, the heavenly bodies lie approximately 1.195 billion kilometers (742 million miles) apart; at their most distant, the separation between our planet and the gas giant is about 1.66 billion kilometers (1.03 billion miles).

How long does it take to get to Saturn?

Two factors determine the length of a trip to Saturn: the route selected for the mission and the spacecraft's speed. For example, the Voyager 1 mission took 3 years and 2 months to arrive, while the Cassini spacecraft took 6 years and 9 months.

What is Saturn made of?

Interestingly enough, the gas giant mainly consists of the same components as the Sun; however, the planet lacks the necessary mass to undergo the fusion to power a star.

Formation of Saturn

Like the rest of the planets in the Solar System, Saturn formed from the solar nebula. About 4.5 billion years ago, gravity pulled gas and dust in to form Saturn. The planet settled into its current position of the sixth planet from the Sun about 4 billion years ago.

Saturn structure

Saturn is a gas giant made almost entirely of hydrogen and helium. There is a dense metallic core at the center of the planet. It is enveloped by liquid metallic hydrogen and a layer of liquid hydrogen; the latter gradually transitions to a gas. The outermost gas layer of Saturn spans 1,000 kilometers (620 miles).

Saturn surface

Saturn doesn't have a solid surface: if you tried to walk on Saturn's surface, you would sink through its outer part, suffering high temperatures and pressures. The surface of the planet is mostly swirling gases.

Saturn moons

Saturn overtook Jupiter as the planet with the most moons in 2019 when US researchers discovered 20 new satellites orbiting the planet. The natural satellites of Saturn are numerous and diverse: the ringed planet and its moons resemble a miniature Solar System. According to NASA, Saturn has 146 moons.

Titan: Saturn's largest moon

With a radius of 2,574 kilometers, Titan is Saturn's largest natural satellite and second-largest in the Solar System after Jupiter's moon Ganymede. It's even larger than the planet Mercury! Titan makes up 96% of the mass in orbit around Saturn.

Titan is an extraordinary heavenly body: it is the only moon in the whole Solar System with a dense Earth-like atmosphere and the only place except for the Earth to have liquids on its surface. As its surface temperature is frigid, there's no liquid water on Titan's surface; however, the temperature is suitable for liquid methane and ethane. Moreover, evidence of a subsurface water ocean was found; within this ocean, conditions are potentially suitable for life.

The sky on Titan is hazy orange; Saturn can be seen through the haze from Titan's side, which permanently faces the ringed planet. From Titan's surface, Saturn appears about 11 times larger in the sky than the Moon from the Earth. Artist's impressions can help us visualize the view of Saturn from Titan.

Enceladus: icy ocean moon

Enceladus is covered in clean, fresh ice, making it one of the most reflective bodies in the Solar System. It's also the main source of material for Saturn's E ring. The material escapes from Enceladus through geyser-like jets near the moon's south pole. It consists of water vapor, molecular hydrogen, other volatiles, and solid material, including sodium chloride crystals and ice particles.

What's more, the moon has a saltwater ocean beneath the ice, which could be a possible habitat for life. It hasn't been proven yet by space missions, but the mathematical studies show that the conditions in Enceladus' ocean may be similar to those found in the deepest, darkest parts of the Earth's oceans, which support microbes.

Mimas: the smallest and innermost of Saturn's major moons

With a radius of less than 198 km (123 miles), Mimas didn't make it to become round-shaped. So it's a small ovoid, almost entirely made of water ice, like a rough space snowball. Mimas has a giant impact crater named Herschel after the moon's discoverer. The crater spans 130 kilometers (80 miles) across the moon, making it look like the Death Star from Star Wars.

Saturn rings

A large and distinct system of icy rings is what Saturn is best known for. The planet has 7 main rings, which in turn are made up of thousands of tiny ringlets. Saturn's rings extend up to 282,000 kilometers (175,226 miles) from the planet. They are relatively close to each other; however, there are gaps in Saturn's ring system — the most prominent one, known as the Cassini Division, measures about 4,700 kilometers (2,920 miles) wide.

Why does Saturn have rings?

There are several hypotheses about the origins of Saturn's rings. Some astronomers believe that they are pieces of comets, asteroids, or even moons torn apart and snagged by the planet's powerful gravity. Others assume that the rings are remnants of the nebular material from which Saturn formed.

What are Saturn's rings made of?

Saturn's rings are mainly composed of billions of water-ice particles with a trace component of rocky material. The particles vary in size from grains of sand to house-size lumps; some are as large as a mountain!

Why are the rings of Saturn so bright? Probably, because they are relatively massive and made of reflective material (water ice), thus effectively backscattering sunlight. In addition, scientists assume that the rings are relatively young and, therefore, they haven't gotten dusty yet.

What color are Saturn rings?

The rings mostly have tan or sandy colors; however, other color variations can also be seen. Since Saturn's rings are made predominantly of water ice (pure ice is white), different colors might result from contamination by such materials as rock or carbon compounds.

Are there any missions to Saturn?

Saturn is a rather rare destination for space missions. The first spacecraft to visit the ringed planet was NASA's Pioneer 11, launched in 1973. It acquired low-resolution images of Saturn and discovered the thin F ring. In 1977, NASA launched two more missions, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, which provided scientists with valuable data on Saturn, its moons and rings, and thousands of high-resolution images. The twin spacecraft are still continuing their long journey: they're exploring interstellar space, where nothing from the Earth has been before.

Launched in 1997, Cassini–Huygens was the fourth space probe to visit Saturn and the first to enter its orbit. The mission included NASA's Cassini space probe and ESA's Huygens lander, the first human-made object to reach Titan's surface and to make a landing in the outer Solar System. Moreover, Cassini was the first mission to sample an extraterrestrial ocean. The mission ended in 2017, having completed 293 orbits around the ringed planet.

In 2027, one more mission to Saturn will be launched. NASA's Dragonfly mission will arrive at Titan in 2036 to explore this moon and investigate its habitability.

What does Saturn look like from the Earth?

Saturn is the most distant of the five planets (the other four are Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter) visible from the Earth to the naked eye. Saturn shines like a moderately bright yellowish "star". With regular binoculars, you’ll see the planet as a golden oval. However, Saturn’s famous rings and amazing moons are only visible in a telescope.

What does Saturn look like from the Earth

The best time to observe Saturn is its opposition when the planet appears at its brightest and largest to the terrestrial observer.

And what if we told you that Saturn looks a lot like a teapot? Check out our crazy space food quiz, where delicious foods represent celestial objects.

Food Quiz Intro 2
Satiate your appetite for knowledge and fine food! Look at AI-generated images of delicious meals and try to guess what space objects they symbolize.
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Where is Saturn tonight?

The astronomical apps Star Walk 2 and Sky Tonight will help you find Saturn in the sky above you and determine the best viewing time for your location.

How to see Saturn with Star Walk 2?

You can find Saturn with Star Walk 2 in a few steps:

  • Tap the magnifying glass in the bottom-left corner of the main screen.
  • Type "Saturn" in the search bar, and you'll see the planet in the search results. If the planet's name is white, it's currently in the sky. If it's gray, the planet is not yet visible in your sky. You will see the rise and set times of the planet below its name.
  • Tap on the planet and follow the white arrow until you see Saturn on the screen. The planet in the real sky above you is in the same direction as the app shows.
Saturn in Star Walk 2
With Star Walk 2, you can easily find Saturn and other celestial objects in the sky above you.

How to see Saturn with Sky Tonight?

Use the search in the Sky Tonight app to find Saturn and learn more about it:

  • Tap the magnifier icon in the lower-left part of the main screen.
  • Type "Saturn" in the search bar, and you'll see the planet in the search results.
  • Tap the matching result to learn more about the planet in the Info, Figures, and Events sections.
  • Tap the target button in the lower-right corner of the screen. The app will show you the planet’s location on the sky map.
  • Tap the compass button in the lower-right corner of the screen. The app’s sky map will match the sky at your location in real-time. Follow the white arrow until you see Saturn on the screen. The planet in the real sky is in the direction the app is showing you.
Saturn in Sky Tonight
Sky Tonight will help you find Saturn above you and learn all the important details about the planet.

When can you see Saturn in 2023?

Here are the upcoming astronomical events featuring Saturn. More astronomical events are listed in the Sky Tonight calendar: just launch the app and tap the calendar icon at the bottom of the screen to find the stargazing events for each day.

September 27: Moon near Saturn

  • Conjunction time: 01:25 GMT
  • Conjunction distance: 2°38'
  • Close approach time: 03:01 GMT
  • Close approach distance: 2°25'

On September 27, the Moon will meet Saturn (mag 0.5) in the constellation Aquarius. The lunar disc will be almost entirely lit (95%), as the Full Moon will occur soon. Both objects will rise in the evening and climb the highest by 11 p.m. local time. Observe them with binoculars or the naked eye.

October 24: Moon near Saturn

  • Conjunction time: 07:52 GMT
  • Conjunction distance: 2°46'
  • Close approach time: 09:34 GMT
  • Close approach distance: 2°32'

On October 24, the 74%-illuminated Moon will meet Saturn (mag 0.7) in the constellation Aquarius. Both objects will rise during the daytime; by the time the Sun goes down, they will be highest in the sky. The pair will be visible in the evening sky with the naked eye and through binoculars.

November 4: Saturn ends retrograde motion

Saturn has been retrograde since June 17. Its backward motion will switch back to normal, or prograde, on November 4. The next retrograde period for Saturn will last from June 30 to November 15, 2024. To explore more about planets appearing to move "backwards," dive into our dedicated article.

November 20: Moon near Saturn

  • Conjunction time: 14:02 GMT
  • Conjunction distance: 2°48'
  • Close approach time: 15:45 GMT
  • Close approach distance: 2°30'

On November 20, the 52%-illuminated Moon will meet Saturn (mag 0.8) in the constellation Aquarius. Start observations after sunset: by that time, the pair will be highest in the sky. Observe the scene through binoculars or with the naked eye.

December 17: Moon near Saturn

  • Conjunction time: 21:58 GMT
  • Conjunction distance: 2°30'
  • Close approach time: 23:32 GMT
  • Close approach distance: 2°16'

On December 17, the 30%-illuminated Moon will come close to Saturn (mag 0.9). They will be visible in the dark evening sky in the constellation Aquarius. Both celestial bodies will be bright enough to be observed with the naked eye.


What type of planet is Saturn?

Saturn is a gas giant composed mainly of hydrogen and helium. The other gas giant planets in our Solar System are Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune. This group is also known as the Jovian planets.

What color is Saturn?

Saturn's atmosphere is mostly hydrogen and helium, with traces of ammonia, phosphine, and hydrocarbons, which gives the planet a pastel yellowish-brown color.

When was Saturn discovered?

The ringed planet has been known since prehistoric times; ancient astronomers systematically observed and recorded its movements. Galileo Galilei was the first to observe Saturn through a primitive telescope in 1610. Saturn's rings were unknown to exist until Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens saw them in 1659, using a more powerful telescope.

How many rings does Saturn have?

Saturn has seven large rings, which are named alphabetically in the order they were discovered. The main rings are A, B, and C; they are denser and contain larger particles. The fainter D, E, and G rings are also known as "dusty rings" due to the small size of their particles. The F ring — the outermost one — contains quite dense parts, but it also contains a lot of small particles, which makes it rather difficult to categorize. The rings consist of thousands of narrower ones, so the exact number is unknown.

How many moons does Saturn have?

So far, scientists have found 146 moons of Saturn: 66 of them are known, while another 80 are awaiting confirmation of their discovery and official naming. The natural satellites of the ringed planet vary in size, shape, and composition. It takes some of them half an Earth day to complete the orbit around Saturn, while others take about four Earth years to travel once around the planet.

Why is Jupiter denser than Saturn?

Jupiter is three times more massive than Saturn and has a greater gravity as a result. Gravity makes the largest planet in the Solar System denser than its fellow gas giant. Read more about Jupiter in our dedicated article.

Can people live on Saturn?

Saturn doesn't satisfy the conditions needed for life as we know it. However, some satellites of the ringed planet, particularly Titan and Enceladus, may be capable of supporting life. Titan's surface is one of the most Earth-like places in the whole Solar System, and Enceladus hosts a subsurface ocean with the ingredients necessary for life to emerge.

Did you know?

  • Saturn is the only Solar System's planet whose average density is less than water: if it was possible to place the gas giant into a colossal bathtub, it could float!

  • The gas giant is blanketed with layers of clouds and can boast extremely fast winds: they can reach speeds of 1,800 kilometers (1,118 miles) per hour, while the strongest winds on the Earth have a speed of about 396 kilometers (246 miles) per hour.

  • One of the unique features of the ringed planet is a persistent cloud pattern around its north pole known as Saturn's hexagon.

  • Around opposition, Saturn's rings appear exceptionally bright — this phenomenon is known as the opposition surge or Seeliger Effect.

  • Although Saturn has the most prominent and most famous rings in the Solar System, the other three giant planets — Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune — also have ring systems.

Learn more interesting facts about the Solar System planets with our fun quiz. Take a challenge and expand your cosmic knowledge!

Bottom line

Saturn is a giant gas planet with the largest and most prominent ring system. It has the biggest number of moons in the Solar System, some of which may potentially support life. You can easily find the planet above you with the help of astronomy apps like Star Walk 2 and Sky Tonight. Hurry up to see Saturn now when it is at its biggest and brightest!