Saturday, August 6, 2022

Questiones on Saturn

Saturn is best known for a large and distinctive system of icy rings. Saturn's rings extend to a distance of up to 282,000 kilometers from the planet. They are relatively close to each other; however, there are gaps in Saturn's ring system – the most prominent, known as the Cassini Split, is 4,700 kilometers wide.

Why does Saturn have rings?

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

How many rings does Saturn have?

Saturn has seven large rings, which are named in alphabetical order and in the order in which they were discovered. The main ones are the A, B, and C rings; they are denser and contain larger particles. The weaker D, E and G rings are also known as "dust rings" because of their small particles. The F ring (the outermost) contains very dense parts, but it also contains a lot of small particles, which makes it difficult to categorize. Each ring consists of thousands of other, narrower rings, so the exact number is unknown.

What is the composition of Saturn's rings?

Saturn's rings are mainly composed of billions of water particles in the form of ice with a leftover component of rocky material. The particles range in size from grains of sand to house-sized chunks; some are as big as a mountain!

Why are Saturn's rings so bright? 

Probably because they are relatively massive and made of reflective material (water in the form of ice) and therefore effectively backscatter sunlight. Furthermore, scientists assume that the rings are relatively young and therefore have not yet accumulated dust.

What is the color of Saturn's rings?

Most rings are bronze or sand in color ; however, other color variations are also visible. As Saturn's rings are predominantly made of water ice (pure ice is white), different colors can result from contamination by materials such as rocky or carbon compounds.

Quests to Saturn

Saturn is a pretty 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 about Saturn, its moons and rings, and thousands of high-resolution images. The twin probes are still on their long journey : they are exploring interstellar space, where nothing on Earth has gone 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 spacecraft and ESA's Huygens spacecraft, the first man-made object to reach Titan's surface and land in the outer Solar System. In addition, 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, another mission to Saturn will be launched. NASA's Dragonfly mission will arrive on Titan in 2036 to explore that moon and investigate its habitability.

When is Saturn visible in the night sky?

Saturn is the farthest of the five planets (the other four being Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter) visible to the naked eye from Earth. Saturn shines as a moderately bright golden "star". However, its famous rings and incredible moons are only visible through a telescope.

The best time to observe Saturn is at its opposition, when the planet appears at its peak of brightness and size to the terrestrial observer. Around solar conjunction, it is not possible to see the ringed planet from Earth.

 next events astronomical events that will occur with Saturn.

August 12: Moon-Saturn conjunction

On August 12, at 03:55 GMT (00:55 EDT) , Saturn will pass within 354' of the Full Moon. These two celestial objects will be in the constellation of Capricorn. The planet will be shining at a magnitude of 0.3. Locate the star-like spot next to the Moon with the naked eye, or with the use of binoculars. With a telescope, you will get a closer view of Saturn and its rings, but you will not see the conjunction – the distance between the Moon and the planet will be too great.

August 14: Saturn at Opposition

Saturn enters opposition on August 14 at 16:35 GMT (13:35 BRT) . The ringed planet will shine with a magnitude of 0.28 in the constellation Capricorn. The size of Saturn's disk around the opposition will be larger, reaching 18.8 arcseconds (21.9 arcseconds counting the rings).

 To the naked eye, Saturn will appear as a yellowish object slightly brighter than the stars around it. Its oval shape will appear if you use a pair of binoculars, but you will need at least a small 4-inch telescope to enjoy the view of Saturn's rings. Don't worry if you miss the exact moment of opposition. The ringed planet will be well positioned in the coming weeks and will remain in the night sky for the rest of 2022.

Johannes Klep 

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