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Saturn, surrounded by spectacular rings and a serene yellow hue, is the second-largest planet in our solar system and the sixth nearest planet to the sun. It may seem almost tangible when viewed through a microscope, but in reality, this mysterious planet occupies the solar system millions of miles from Earth. The distance constantly changes as Earth and Saturn travel through space. When the two planets are the closest, they lie about 746 million miles apart, and when they are at their most distant, they are over a billion miles apart.
Before discussing Saturn’s relation to Earth, you need to understand how it orbits the sun. The sun is a fixed point in our solar system, and Saturn and Earth are orbiting this magnificent star at lightning speed. Saturn’s orbit is also much larger than Earth’s, and these factors can make it difficult to calculate.
Like all the planets in the solar system, Saturn travels in an elliptical orbit, and its distance varies throughout the year. The average distance that Saturn lies from the sun is 886 million miles, which is nine and a half times Earth’s average distance from the sun. When Saturn is farthest from the sun, it is 934 million miles away; when it is at its closest, it is 839 million miles away.
Like Saturn and the other planets in the Solar system, Earth orbits in an ellipse, and their distance changes as both planets orbit the sun. When Saturn is farthest from Earth, Saturn, the Sun, and Earth align, known as a conjunction, which is close to one billion miles. When Saturn is closest to the Earth, both planets are on the same side of the sun. Earth is placed in the middle, reducing the distance between the planets to nearly 746 million miles. This occurs every 54 weeks and is known as Saturn’s opposition. When this happens, Saturn is at its largest and brightest.
The time it takes to get to Saturn can depend on many factors. It depends on whether the spacecraft is directly launched toward Saturn, if the spacecraft is sent toward other celestial objects to use their gravity to slingshot itself to Saturn, and the type of engine that propels the spacecraft. Another vital consideration is whether or not the spacecraft is going to fly by the planet, in which case it will need to slow down. If the spacecraft is going to orbit Saturn, it will take longer.
In the past, exploratory vehicles have taken different amounts of time to get to Saturn. Pioneer11 was the first craft to look at Saturn in 1973 and only passed Saturn six years later in 1979. Voyager 1 used a gravitational assist from Jupiter to swing past Saturn in 3 years, and Voyager 2 launched a month earlier but traveled a circular route that took 4 years to reach Saturn.
Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are the five brightest planets, and all five can be seen if you know where and when to look. Each planet has a different overall brightness and visibility based on where it is in its normal cycle as well as other factors, and it is possible that the planets will not be visible simultaneously.
We can see planets because they reflect some of the sun’s light back into space. The light that is reflected depends on the amount of cloud coverage and the planet’s size and reflectivity. Whether a planet is visible to the naked eye depends on its distance from the sun, apparent size, and position to other planets.
Before sunrise is the best time to view planets, but Saturn remains visible all night, and it’s brightest in May, June, and July. It rises in the East and sets in the West, and as May passes into June, Saturn will rise when the sun sets.
To spot Saturn, you must look at the sun’s position and then at the opposite corner of the sky.
A day on Saturn is equivalent to less than half a day on Earth. Saturn has the second shortest day in the Solar system, and it rotates 6.13 miles per second and takes 10.7 hours to complete one rotation.
Even though a day on Saturn is significantly shorter than a day on Earth, it orbits the sun at a greater distance. As a result, Saturn’s orbit around the sun takes 29,457 Earth years to complete.
Saturn doesn’t have an actual surface and is made up of mostly swirling gases and liquids. There no place to land on Saturn, and any spacecraft that attempts to fly through it would be crushed, vaporised, or melted due its extreme temperatures and pressures.
Here are some fun facts about the magnificent ringed planet.
The distance of Saturn from Earth is a calculated answer. If you wanted to visit the amazing planet, you would travel for nearly four years. Even though Saturn is millions of miles away, you can spot it with the naked eye. Using a telescope, you can view its magnificent rings!
Featured Image Credit: flflflflfl, Pixabay
Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.
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