Because of the way it circles the sun, Saturn and its colorful rings are always illuminated and available for viewing. If you lived on Saturn, you would not live many years because of how long it takes the planet to circle the sun. However, your days would fly by quicker due to Saturn's faster rotational speed.
Summer on Saturn
Saturn, like all planets, experiences seasons because of its rotation about an axis and changes in distance from the sun. When the planet's north pole is tilted toward the sun during its orbit, the northern hemisphere experiences summer. Winter arrives in the northern hemisphere when Saturn's south pole tilts toward the sun. Unlike Earth's, Saturn's seasons last more than seven years. Because it takes almost 30 years for Saturn to orbit the sun, spring and fall equinoxes occur approximately every 15 Earth years.
Orbital Effects on the Rings
Saturn's rings, visible from Earth, appear differently depending upon the planet's position in its orbit. During half the planet's orbit, the sun shines on the south side of Saturn's rings. It shines on the north side of the rings during the other half of the orbit. The rings get cooler when they receive less energy from the sun. For five years, NASA's "Cassini" spacecraft monitored temperature changes in the rings as Saturn's seasons changed.
Spin Rate Mysteries
Determining how long a day is on Saturn is more difficult than calculating one on Earth. A perpetual cloud cover obscures the planet, which, being gaseous, has no surface. Scientists often determine a body's rotational period by analyzing its radio transmissions. In 2004, the "Cassini" spacecraft used this method to determine that Saturn rotated every 10 hours and 45 minutes. However, when the "Voyager" spacecrafts took the same measurements in the early '80s, they calculated a rotational period that was about six minutes longer. Scientists believe that current theories about the rotation of magnetic fields could be wrong.
Detailed Orbital Facts
Saturn has a slightly elliptical orbit and travels around the sun in the same direction that the sun rotates. Its mean distance from the sun is 1,426,666,000 kilometers (621,371,192 miles) and it takes 29.45 Earth years for the planet to circle the sun. During its orbit, Saturn travels at a mean velocity of 9 kilometers (5.6 miles) per second. Saturn's closest approach to Earth is 1.2 billion kilometers. During its orbit, the planet travels a length of 804,672,000,000 kilometers (5,565,900,000 miles).
- NASA: Planetary Seasons
- NASA:: APOD- 2003 April 5 - The Seasons Of Saturn
- NASA: Equinox at Saturn
- NASA: Scientists Find That Saturn's Rotation Period Is a Puzzle
- Encyclopedia Britannica: Saturn (Planet): Basic Astronomical Data
- Northwestern University Qualitative Reasoning Group Projects: What Are the Orbital Lengths and Distances of Objects in Our Solar System?
About the Author
After majoring in physics, Kevin Lee began writing professionally in 1989 when, as a software developer, he also created technical articles for the Johnson Space Center. Today this urban Texas cowboy continues to crank out high-quality software as well as non-technical articles covering a multitude of diverse topics ranging from gaming to current affairs.