Does Saturn have clouds?

Does Saturn Have Clouds?

I found myself wondering this exact question while viewing Saturn through my 12 inch Dobs at my favorite observatory…my backyard! Like you, I didn’t know the answer to this question, so I did a little research and here’s what I found out.

So, does Saturn have clouds? Yes, without question Saturn does have clouds. When the Voyager Mission traveled to Saturn back in the early 1980s it photographed a large, irregular shaped cloud formation near it’s north pole. During Cassini’s flyby some 25 years later, it was revealed that this storm was still turning. With infrared images measuring wind-speeds upwards of 200 miles per hour and a storm measuring 15,000 miles across, there is no question that Saturn has clouds.

Image source: NASA

What is Saturn’s atmosphere made of?

This is where it get’s a little interesting. Unlike Earth, Saturn has no solid surface to speak of. Like Jupiter, it is known as a gas giant. It’s composition is a spinning concoction of gases comprised mainly of hydrogen, helium, methane and ammonia.

This is what give Saturn that murky, yellowy, chocolate milk looking color seen in most images of the ringed planet. The rings themselves are comprised mostly of water ice and rocks and are by bar the most impressive of any in the solar system.

Quick Fact: Saturn has 62 moons. When viewing Saturn there’s no better bang-for-your-buck than a large aperture Dobsonian. I personally own a Sky-Watcher 12″ Collapsible Dobsonian and this is my go-to scope when doing planetary viewing. The reason I like it so much is because of it’s collapsible design and portability. This means I get a large aperture without all the drawbacks, namely, weight and size.

What is the weather on Saturn like?

The weather on Saturn is unlike any weather you can imagine here on Earth. Saturn’s planetary interior looks like thick bands of varying brown colors that widen the closer you get to the equator. The temperature on Saturn is bitterly cold due to its vast proximity to the sun. Saturn measures approximately 1.434 Billion kilometers (839 million miles) from the sun and sees temperature extremes dipping below -178 degrees Celsius (-288 degrees Fahrenheit).

NASA has recorded wind-speeds greater than 1,100 miles per hour at the planets center. As you move away from the planet’s interior, temperature, pressure and wind speeds diminish. Check out this awe-inspiring video from NASA about the mission of the Cassini space probe.

Can you see Saturn’s clouds from Earth?

Unfortunately, seeing Saturn’s clouds from Earth would be impossible. Saturn is approximately 746 million miles away from the Earth when they are at their closest points. That means you will not see clouds when viewing Saturn from your backyard observatory. But rings…that’s a whole other story.

One of the reason’s Saturn is my absolute favorite planet to observe is because of the stunning rings that will come into view through your eyepiece. It is truly breathtaking the first time you lay eyes on Saturn through a reasonably powered telescope. If viewing Saturn doesn’t get you excited about amateur astronomy, then I’m sorry, it’s likely that nothing will. Saturn is one of the most beautiful sites in our night skies and a go-to personally for me every chance I get.

I should forewarn those new-comers to amateur astronomy that envision seeing images at the eyepiece that resemble those you see on the internet or in magazines. You are not going to get the finely polished and overlay-ed images of Saturn taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. If you’re expecting that, then you’ll be sadly disappointed. This is what you should expect to see, or at least something very close when viewing from a dark sky region with your amateur telescope.

Saturn at Opposition

Best Conditions for Viewing Saturn…

Viewing Saturn is a great mid-summer expedition when the skies are clear and the night is dark. This means, try to plan those night where the moon doesn’t rise until some time after the sun sets. Saturn is usually well positioned in the Southern sky (if you’re in the northern hemisphere) in and around the “Tea Pot” constellation. You’re best viewing opportunity is typically from early July until mid-August.

Saturn, like other large planets in our solar system are quite easy to pick out in the sky with the naked eye under clear conditions. Their light will shine bright against the back-drop which makes finding them a fairly easy task when compared to deep-space objects such as star clusters and nebulae. I highly recommend putting Saturn at the top of your evening viewing list…it will not disappoint!

Additional Readings

Well there you have it, the answer to “Does Saturn Have Clouds?”. I certainly hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article and have found it both interesting and useful.

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