Segments in this Video

Introduction: Saturn (03:12)


Saturn is located in the freezing outer solar system and surrounded by a 45,000 mile wide ring of ice. Understanding of the planet has been limited, changing completely with new data; its moons show promise of harboring life.

Once Solid (03:03)

Saturn began as a rocky planet, clumping and growing with other objects in the snow line, where the original solar nebula chilled enough to form ice, creating materials for formation and accelerating its growth. Gravitational pressure compressed and combined the rock with the frozen debris.

Initial Data (03:46)

The Voyager probes explored the outer solar system, sending images of Saturn that triggered media attention. Details of its rings and other features became visible as they approached; analysis of the upper atmosphere revealed it composed mostly of helium and hydrogen.

Becoming a Gas Giant (02:01)

Over four billion years ago, Saturn’s gravity became powerful enough to draw in hydrogen and helium. Its large core caused the gasses to collapse into it, and triggered runaway growth.

Technological Feat (05:52)

Cassini was built to examine Saturn's interior to determine what powers its weather. It was an ambitious engineering project; putting the probe into orbit required precise maneuvering. First transmitted images emotionally impacted Mission scientists.

Storm World (02:31)

Saturn has no solid surface; its rocky core disintegrated and materials distributed into the planet. Ice water comprises some of its clouds; within the atmosphere are mechanisms creating huge weather systems lasting centuries.

Intense Compression (04:26)

Saturn's weather patterns are not dictated by solar surface warming as they are on Earth; atmospheric research reveals processes occurring within. Pressures are extreme 18,000 miles below; molten helium rains, merges with surrounding materials, creates kinetic energy, and heat.

Shiny New Bands (05:11)

Saturn's rings were not present for billions of years; the debris disc is comprised of bright ice bits. Many of its moons are made of frozen water; comparative analysis suggests the iconic feature created by lunar body destruction.

Popular Theory Illustrated (03:38)

Scientists believe that 10 to 100 million years ago, one of Saturn's moons breached its Roche limit; gravitational tidal forces ripped the body apart, releasing 17,000 trillion tons of ice into orbit. It encircled the planet within days, creating rings.

Water Vapor Activity (09:39)

Cassini explored Saturn's rings, detecting vertical formations and ice moons creating their grooved appearance. Investigation of Enceladus revealed geyser activity and a saltwater ocean beneath its icy surface; orbital stretching melts the interior. Plume analysis revealed organic compounds and triggered biological evolutionary discussion.

Difficult Farewell (05:28)

Cassini ended its mission in September 2017; it was navigated into Saturn's atmosphere where it broke apart and was absorbed. It was an emotional event for project scientists; the probe created a wealth of data they will study for years.

Credits: Saturn (00:50)

Credits: Saturn

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Episode 4: Saturn (NOVA: The Planets)

Part of the Series : NOVA: The Planets
3-Year Streaming Price: $169.95



NASA’s Cassini explores Saturn for 13 years, looping through its icy rings and its moons. The probe captures stunning ring-moon interactions, but when it finds the ingredients for life on the moon Enceladus, a bittersweet decision is made.

Length: 53 minutes

Item#: BVL191993

Copyright date: ©2019

Closed Captioned

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