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Saturn is named for the Roman god of

agriculture. It has a thick atmosphere of

hydrogen and helium, which gradually

turns into an ocean of liquid hydrogen

and helium with increasing depth. Saturn

has about nine times the Earth's diam-

eter, about 100 times the Earth's mass,

and is about 10 times farther from the

sun. Saturn probably is best known for its

big, bright system of rings. Although the

other three big planets in the solar system

(Jupiter, Uranus, Neptune) also have rings

around them, only Saturn’s ring system is

bright enough to be seen even with small

telescopes. Its rings are composed of

LOTS of bits of ice all orbiting the planet

like little moons or satellites. Most of the

pieces of ice range in size from individual

ice crystals (like snowflakes) to snowball

size chunks; a few are larger, ranging

from automobile-size up to house-size

iceberg-like chunks.


Mars is named for the Roman god of war.

Its orange-red color comes from iron

oxides (rust) in its rocks and soil. Mars has

about half the Earth's diameter, about 1/10

the Earth's mass, and is about 1.5 times

farther from the Sun. It has a thin atmo-

sphere of carbon dioxide, and an average

temperature well below the freezing point

of water.


The zodiacal light extends from the lower

right corner of the photo up towards Mars

and Saturn. It's produced by sunlight

reflecting off grains of dust in the ecliptic

plane. The ecliptic plane is the plane of

the Earth's orbit around the sun; all eight

major planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth,

Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune)

have orbits around the sun that lie nearly

in the same plane.