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Modern Space Exploration: Saturn

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Saturn: Facts About the Ringed Planet

Significant Events

  • ~700 BCE: The oldest written records documenting Saturn are attributed to the AssyriansThey described the ringed planet as a sparkle in the night and named it "Star of Ninib."
  • ~400 BCE: Ancient Greek astronomers name what they think is a wandering star in honor of Kronos, the god of agriculture. The Romans later change the name to Saturn, their god of agriculture.
    Illustration of an ancient bearded god.
    Cassini: Unveiling the Myth poster. Credit: NASA / Jet Propulsion Laboratory - Caltech / Academia de Arte Yepes
  • July 1610: Galileo Galilei spots Saturn's rings through a telescope, but mistakes them for a "triple planet."
  • 1655: Christiaan Huygens discovers Saturn's rings and its largest moon, Titan.
  • 1675: Italian-born astronomer Jean-Dominique Cassini discovers a "division" between what are now called the A and B rings.
  • Sept. 1, 1979: Pioneer 11 is the first spacecraft to reach Saturn. Among Pioneer 11's many discoveries are Saturn's F ring and a new moon.
  • 1980 and 1981: In its 1980 flyby of Saturn, Voyager 1 reveals the intricate structure of the ring system, consisting of thousands of ringlets. Flying even closer to Saturn in 1981, Voyager 2 provides more detailed images and documents the thinness of some of the rings.
  • July 1, 2004: NASA's Cassini spacecraft becomes the first to orbit Saturn, beginning a decade-long mission that revealed many secrets and surprises about Saturn and its system of rings and moons.
  • Jan. 14, 2005: The European Space Agency's Huygens probe is the first spacecraft to make a soft landing on the surface of another planet's moon — Saturn's giant moon Titan. The probe provides the first direct study of Titan's atmosphere and the first-and-only direct images of Titan's surface, which is shrouded by thick
  • Sept. 17, 2006: Scientists discover a new ring. The ring coincides with the orbits of Saturn's moons Janus and Epimetheus. Images taken during a solar occultation that backlit the planet revealed the new ring.
  • 2009: NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope reveals the presence of a gigantic, low density ring associated with Saturn’s distant moon Phoebe.
  • Sep. 15, 2017: Cassini ends a 13-year orbital mission with a spectacular, planned plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere — sending science data back to the last second. Cassini’s final five orbits enable scientists to directly sample Saturn’s atmosphere for the first time


“Exploration.” NASA, NASA, 22 July 2019,


Saturn Facts

Quick Facts

10.7 hours

29 Earth years

36,183.7 miles | 58,232 kilometers

Planet Type
Gas giant

53 confirmed | 29 provisional