Exploring the Planets

Observations of Saturn

The View from Earth

Because Saturn's axis is inclined at 29 degrees, telescopic views change with different orbital positions of the Earth and Saturn. At times, the rings are seen edgewise from Earth and are nearly invisible.

Photos courtesy of Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.



October 14, 1968.



March 11, 1974.

Pioneer Encounters Saturn

Prior to the Pioneer 11 close approach on September 1, 1979, Saturn had never been inspected by spacecraft. Pioneer 11 instruments discovered a strong magnetic field surrounding Saturn, 500 times stronger than Earth's and aligned with the orbital axis. The planet was also found to have an internal heat source responsible for radiating more energy than it receives from the Sun.

Imaging instruments on Pioneer found that unlike Jupiter, the clouds of Saturn were very bland, with little real color variation.



One of the first spacecraft views of Saturn was taken by Pioneer 11 three days before its closest encounter. The moon Titan is seen to the upper left.