Spacecraft that have visited Saturn

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Spacecraft that have visited Saturn

  • Pioneer 11 flew within 21,000 km of Saturn on 1 September 1979, discovered two new moons and an additional ring, charted Saturn's magnetosphere and magnetic field and found its planet-size moon Titan, to be too cold for life.

  • The Voyager 1 and 2 Saturn encounters occurred nine months apart, in November 1980 and August 1981. Discovers larger of internal to external heat: 2-to-1 compared to 1-to-1 for Jupiter.

  • Cassini orbital insertion on July 1, 2004. Took first image of a moon (Phoebe) on June 11, 2004. Still working in April 2006:


  • Cassini dropped the Huygens probe into atmosphere of Titan on January 14, 2005.

Multiple Rings!


What do we know about Titan?

  • It is the biggest of Saturn’s moons.

  • Titan’s diameter of 5,150 km makes it larger than the planet Mercury with a diameter of 4,880 km and Pluto (2,350 km).

  • Only Jupiter's moon Ganymede is larger.

  • Three-and-a-quarter Earth Moons could fit inside Titan.

  • Titan is the only moon known to have a large atmosphere – maybe thicker than Earth’s (>1,000 mb)!

  • Its atmosphere is mostly nitrogen, just like the atmosphere surrounding Earth, but thicker.

  • Its atmosphere contains methane and tiny amounts of oxygen.

Huygens scientific instruments

What’s Interesting about Phoebe?

  • Phoebe is roughly spherical and is ~220 km in diameter.

  • Phoebe rotates on its axis every 9 hours and orbits Saturn in ~18 months.

  • Its irregular, elliptical orbit is inclined ~30 degrees toward Saturn’s equator.

  • Phoebe’s orbit is retrograde.

  • Phoebe’s average distance from Saturn is 13 million km, which is ~4 times farther away from Saturn than its nearest neighbor, the moon Iapetus.

  • Phoebe and Iapetus are the only major moons in the Saturn region that do not orbit close to the plane of Saturn’s equator.

  • Unlike most major moons orbiting Saturn, Phoebe is very dark and reflects only 6 percent of the sunlight it receives.

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