How Long Does it Take to Get to Saturn?

It only takes a glimpse into the night sky to realize our closest neighbor is the Moon, our own natural satellite. Traveling a distance of roughly 240,000 miles (386,400 kilometers) it takes around 3 days to make a one way journey to the Moon. The planets of our solar system are much further away, some more so than others, so planets like Saturn take a while to reach.

What Is Saturn?

The planet Saturn is one of only two gas giants located in our solar system and it is the fifth closest planet to the Sun. It is a massive body in space and in fact is actually the second largest in our solar system just behind fellow gas giant Jupiter.

How Far Is Saturn from Earth?

So we know that unmanned probes have passed relatively close to Saturn but just how far away is Earth from Saturn? Well bearing in mind that the orbits of the two planets are not completely circular the answer can vary but the closest Earth is to Saturn during their respective orbits is 746 million miles.

How Far Is Saturn from the Sun?

Saturn does not have a perfectly circular orbit around the Sun which means that at times it is closer or further away depending on where it is in its orbital period. On average Saturn is 886 million miles (1.4 billion kilometers) from the Sun. This is 9.5 astronomical units (AU) with one unit equating to the average distance between the Sun and Earth. Essentially then Saturn is 9.5 times further away from the Sun than the Earth is.

How Long Does It Take Saturn to Go Around the Sun?

This enormous gas giant is a long way out in our solar system from the Sun sitting at the center. It is the sixth planet from the Sun and has a longer orbital period than the five closer planets by a considerable margin.

Like fellow gas giant Jupiter, Saturn spins rapidly as it orbits the sun meaning a day lasts about 10.7 hours. Its orbital period is such that a year on Saturn is around 10,756 equivalent to 29.4 years. When compared to the next closest planet to the Sun, Jupiter which takes 12 Earth years or to be exact 4,333 Earth days, Saturn takes more than twice as long to complete its orbit.

The last time Saturn was in the same region of space it is currently was in 1994 and several important events were happening such as:

  • The Kremlin Accords were signed between U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin
  • The famous “The Scream” painting by Edvard Munch was stolen and subsequently recovered a few months later.
  • Schindler’s List wins 7 Oscars
  • Kurt Cobain lead singer of Nirvana commits suicide

Saturn’s Structure

Based on observations it is thought that Saturn has a rocky core which is surrounded by a deep layer of metallic hydrogen. Next it is thought that an intermediate layer of liquid hydrogen and liquid helium exists before finally all of this is enveloped in a gaseous outer layer.


As a gas giant Saturn does not have a true surface. This is because it is mainly a mass of swirling gases and liquids. Spacecraft then could not land on Jupiter but they could not simply pass through it either. Extreme pressure and temperatures near the center would crush, melt and vaporize any spacecraft.

Atmosphere and Magnetosphere

Saturn’s yellowish hue is thought to be due to crystallized ammonia in its upper atmosphere. An electrical current found within the metallic hydrogen layer is thought to create the planet’s magnetic field which is much weaker than ours on Earth.

Saturn’s outer atmosphere is generally considered bland and lacking in contrast, although occasionally long-lived features may appear. It is a violent planet in terms of winds with wind speeds reaching 1,800 km per hour.

The planet’s prominent ring system which as mentioned comprises mainly ice chunks and rocky debris is likely its most iconic feature.

Does Saturn Have Moons and Rings?

Yes, Saturn has moons. In fact, as of June 8th 2023 the running total stands at 146 moons with the largest being bigger than the planet Mercury. The smallest moons of Saturn are about the size of a sports arena. Interestingly the many moons of Saturn shape, contribute to and also collect material from the planet’s iconic rings.

Titan is the most massive of Saturn’s moons and is larger than the planet Mercury. It was the first of 8 moons of Saturn that were discovered after the use of telescopes began. First identified in 1655 by Christiaan Huygens, Titan’s fellow moons Tethys, Dione, Rhea, Lapetus, Mimas, Enceledus and Hyperion would be discovered by 1848.

The naming system for Saturn’s moons was suggested by John Herschel in 1847. He proposed that it be named after mythological figures related to the Roman god Saturn whose Greek equivalent was Cronus. The first seven discovered would be named for Titans, Titanesses and Giants, all siblings of Cronus.

Saturn’s distinctive appearance is thanks to the thousands of ringlets that circle the planet. These ringlets are made up of chunks of ice and rock and although not completely unique in the solar system they are the most extensive and spectacular found on any of our system’s planets.

What Is a Gas Giant?

Earlier we mentioned the term gas giant while describing Saturn but what exactly does that mean? Well essentially a gas giant is a large planet such as Saturn and Jupiter in our own solar system which is mainly composed of helium and/or hydrogen.

These planets do not have hard surfaces like our own planet, they are instead made up of swirling gases above a solid core. As such gas giants as the name suggests can be massive and often tend to be closer to their stars than other planets.

The gas giants in our own solar system are not typical of those found elsewhere in the universe. Generally speaking, gas-dominated planets like Saturn orbit extremely close to their parent stars and usually circle them in as few as 18 hours. These gas giants are often referred to as hot Jupiters although our own Jupiter is far from hot.

History of the Observation of Saturn

Babylonian astronomers knew of Saturn and were able to actively observe and track its movements through space. It was known by the ancient Greeks as Phainon; it was the Romans however who first deemed it the “star of Saturn.” The planet would become important to the worship of the respective gods of agriculture in many ancient civilizations. The Romans worshiped it as Saturn while the Greeks called it and indeed still do call it Cronus.

In Hindu astrology, Saturn is one of nine astrological objects, known as Navagrahas. In this respect it is known as “Shani” and represents judgment of everyone based on the good and bad deeds performed in their life.

This is also a planet that was designated in the beliefs of the five elements in both ancient Chinese and Japanese culture. It was considered the Earth star by both cultures.

Telescopic Observations

Initially we did not know that Saturn had its iconic rings. We could see it through early telescopes but we needed a 15-mm-diameter telescope to be able to see them. This did not come along until Christiaan Huygens used one in 1655 and finally saw them. Until then the odd shape Galilileo saw through his telescopes was assumed to be caused by a moon on either side of the planet. It was not moons of course it was the rings.

Over the next two hundred years several moons were discovered by various astronomers but only a few other significant discoveries occurred. Since then more moons have been discovered and advancements in technology have allowed for more intense study.

Spaceflight Missions

A number of missions have been undertaken since 1979 the first of which was Pioneer 11. This robotic space probe was launched with the intent to pass within 20,000 kms of the cloud tops of Saturn. The probe took pictures of the surface and several moons but unfortunately the quality of the images showed little in the way of new detail.

In 1980 and 1981 two separate voyager missions also performed flybys of Saturn. More images were taken and tests were performed, one of which proved that Saturn’s atmosphere is impenetrable to visible wavelengths. Several new natural satellites were also discovered at the same time.

Starting in the early 2000s several more journeys were made to Saturn gathering more information and getting progressively better images of Saturn and its major moons.

How Long Does It Take to Get to Saturn?

The time it takes to make any journey depends on distance and speed and this is especially true of travel in space. Vast distances need to be traversed and this is certainly true for Saturn. Missions to pass by Saturn required the use of gravitational pulls of other planets and bodies along the way and saw spacecraft traveling up to 17 kilometers each second.

As an example the shortest air route from New York to Los Angeles is 3935 kilometers which at spacecraft speed would take 231 seconds to complete or just under 4 minutes. However at 17 kilometers per second it would take spacecraft roughly 3 years and 2 months to get to Saturn.

Final Thoughts

With the technology we have today it takes over 3 years to reach Saturn so missions with human crews are definitely not an option. Of course having astronauts make the journey would be pointless because there is nowhere to land spacecraft on Saturn.