Exploring the Planets

Saturn's Atmosphere & Magnetic Field

The View from Earth

Composed primarily of hydrogen and helium, the upper atmosphere of Saturn exhibits banding similar to that of Jupiter. Unlike Jupiter, however, the individual bands and clouds have little color variations.



Seen by the approaching Voyager 1 spacecraft, Saturn is almost a uniform beige color.



Small scale cloud structures are visible in this color enhanced image of the northern hemisphere of Saturn. This image was taken at a distance of 9 million kilometers (5.5 million miles) a few days before the Voyager 1 spacecraft's closest approach.


Saturn's Storm

A huge storm started forming at the end of 2010 and within 2 Earth months it had grown large enough to wrap all the way around the planet and come back on itself. Scientists believe its formation may be related to Saturn's seasonal changes.



By using computer techniques to enhance minor differences in color, banding in the clouds can be studied. The color variations seen here are due to traces of elements in the atmosphere.


Saturn Storm

A rare storm appears as a white arrow-shaped feature near Saturn's equator in this Hubble Space Telescope image taken December 1, 1994. The storm formed in much the same way that storms form on Earth. This new image shows little change in the storm's motion or size since its discovery in September of 1994.

The Magnetic Field of Saturn

From Pioneer investigations, scientists discovered that the magnetic field of Saturn is aligned with the planet's axis of rotation, unlike the fields of Jupiter and Earth. This discovery has led to revisions in the theories on the origin of magnetic fields, which had previously relied on an offset between the field's axis and the planet's rotation axis to produce large planetary magnetic fields.

The magnetosphere of Saturn is a large region surrounding the planet where charged particles (protons and electrons) are trapped by the magnetic field. Radiation belts surround Saturn at the orbits of Titan and the larger icy satellites. The source for these particles is most likely the atmosphere of Titan and the surfaces of the icy satellites and ring particles.


Illustration of Saturn's Magnetosphere