The Solar System

What is Saturn made of?
Answered by Science Channel
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  1. Saturn has a core of mostly ice and heavy rock, which is still settling gravitationally, causing it to generate heat -- three times as much heat as the planet receives from the sun. There is some water, along with a few other compounds, in the planet's core, but the elements all become solid because of the intense heat and pressure: The interior of Saturn heats up to about 18,000 to 27,000 degrees Fahrenheit (10,000 to 15,000 degrees Celsius).

    Saturn is considered a gas giant, so most of it is made up of atmosphere. Saturn's atmosphere consists mostly of hydrogen and helium. It has other elements, too, such as ammonia, phosphine and methane, but any elements aside from hydrogen and helium are in trace amounts. The atmospheric gases move in winds that can reach a speed of 1,118 miles per hour (1,800 kilometers per hour).

    In 2004, NASA began its Cassini Mission to study Saturn and its system of moons and rings. The satellite has gotten close enough to the planet to study the huge thunderstorms that appear to occur at each of Saturn's poles. Heat from Saturn's massively hot core apparently causes the thunderstorms [source: NASA]. In fact, about every 30 years, massive thunderstorms can be measured on the planet by astronomers on Earth. In 2011, a thunderstorm that started in the planet's northern hemisphere quickly grew to stretch across nearly the entire planet. The Cassini probe was detecting lightning flashes up to about 10 times per second from the storm, which occurred much earlier than normal [source: Washington Post]. Scientists refer to the thunderstorms as "great white spots."

    Even when storms aren't brewing, Saturn's winds and the heat create yellow and gold bands in the atmosphere, which are visible from Earth. The rings of Saturn are composed of pieces of rock and ice. Saturn is about 900 million miles (1.4 billion kilometers) from the sun. One Saturn year is equivalent to nearly 29.5 Earth years. The planet is about 74,900 miles (120,500 kilometers) in diameter, or about 9 times the Earth's diameter [source: Smithsonian Air and Space Museum]. The planet has at least 25 moons and one of these, Titan, has Earth-like qualities.

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