Saturn's Layers


In this activity, split into two about 40-minute sessions, youth will:

  • Be introduced to several of Saturn’s exciting features that are of particular interest to scientists and that capture the imagination of all!
  • Develop their listening and writing skills.
  • Make and take their own multilayer 3-D book of Saturn, with diagrams showing its various layers, ring system, and many moons.
  • Activity Goals: Learn to write with scientific accuracy to characterize Saturn and its features.

Note: This activity is part of the Jewel of the Solar System activity guide, which includes:

  1. What Do I See When I Picture Saturn?
  2. Where Are We in the Solar System?
  3. Discovering Saturn: The Real "Lord of the Rings"
  4. Saturn's Fascinating Features (current activity)
  5. My Spacecraft to Saturn
  6. All About Titan and Huygens Probe
  7. Drop Zone! Design and Test a Probe
  8. Celebrating Saturn and Cassini



Space Needed

  • Classroom or cafeteria, space with tables and chairs

Getting Ready

  • Cut the black construction paper pieces width-wise (to make pieces about 4 x 6 inches). Cut your own 3-D book pages. Cut along the line above the writing space, following the upper shape of the rings of the planet. Be sure to cut the oval inside the rings.

Equity/Leveling the Playing Field

  • In this activity, youth present their work to the group. This may be more comfortable for some than others.

  • Create an environment where they will feel comfortable presenting in front of the group telling them that they should think of themselves as “critical friends” who give positive constructive input.

  • Explain that critical friends will give positive feedback and helpful suggestions for improvement.

  • “Mirroring” is a good way to ensure this will happen, such as: “What I like about your work is...” “What you drew that is missing from my drawings is...”

  • This can be followed by a “critical friends” statement, such as “What I would change about your drawing is...”

  • Emphasize the idea of being supportive and helpful.

Leader Tips

  • Practice cutting and constructing the 3-D book in advance.


Saturn is often referred to as the “jewel of the solar system.” Its striking rings and numerous icy moons set it apart from the other planets. Note that the other gas giants (Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune) have rings also, but they aren't as prominent as Saturn's.

Planets have distinct features that interest scientists and motivate our ongoing planetary exploration. For example:

  • Cassini-Huygens mission scientists are exploring Saturn’s atmosphere to learn more about its temperature, cloud properties, structure, and rotation.

  • The configuration of Saturn’s rings, their sizes, and the distribution of material within them are also being studied by scientists.

  • The icy satellites that orbit Saturn are under investigation as scientists explore satellites embedded in the rings and their composition.

Most of Saturn’s moons orbit along the plane of the rings, but Phoebe does not. It orbits outside the ring plane and also orbits in opposition to the rest of the moons! The youth will notice this “disorder” and comment on it.


  • Core: Center, middle, center of the mass.


Layers of Saturn Book

Layers of Saturn Book Pages

Session 1 – Creating the Book Pages (about 40 minutes)

  1. Optional leader teading — Read aloud the second and third paragraphs of page 3 from the mini-book “Saturn — From the Outside In,” showing the illustrations.

  2. Distribute one set of The Layers of Saturn book pages plus one piece of black construction paper to each student. The black paper will serve as the back cover for their books.

  3. Model for the group how to cut each of the pages. Cut along the line about the writing space, following the upper shape of the rings or the planet. Be sure to cut the oval inside the rings.

  4. Show the group the latest pictures of Saturn from books, the Internet, posters, or newspapers to give the students an accurate picture of what Saturn looks like. If you are limited on Internet access, show them pictures embedded throughout this guide. For the most recent images, visit the image gallery on the Cassini mission website

  5. Have the youth use crayons to color the various pages of Saturn. Explain to them that the colors they see in pictures of Saturn and its rings are often enhanced or color has been added to the images to bring out details. Suggested colors for the pages are as follows:

    Features of SaturnColors
    RingsLight brown
    SurfaceYellow or tan with wide brown stripes
    Rocky coreOrange
    Metallic hydrogen gasOrange and brown
    hydrogen gasyellow

  6. If you are using optional silver glitter glue, put a small amount of it on the rings and ask the youth to spread it around the rings to make them look icy.

  7. Ask them to draw/decorate the frozen moons of Saturn on the inside of the back cover. They can be labeled. Don’t forget that Titan is the largest!

  8. To add stars to the background, the youth can dot a small amount of glitter glue to the top half of the black construction paper.

  9. Set the pages aside to dry.

Session 2 – Writing the Book (about 40 minutes)

  1. (Optional) Leader Reading — Read aloud all of page 3 from the mini-book “Those Amazing Rings,” showing the illustrations.

  2. Return the pages of the 3-D books to the youth.

  3. Ask them to listen very carefully to what you are about to read about Saturn (using The Ringed World of Saturn Leader Instruction Sheet).

  4. After you have read about each of Saturn’s features, stop and ask the students to write in their books on the page that corresponds to the content you just read. Here are some sample sentences to show what successful youth writing may look like:
    • The rings: Saturn has rings. The rings are icy. The rings are big. The rings have gaps. One is the Cassini Division.

    • The surface: Saturn is cloudy. Saturn is windy. The wind makes Saturn look striped. Saturn’s winds are fast.

    • The rocky core: The core is metallic—iron—surrounded by molten rock.

    • Hydrogen gas layer: The first layer of gas is hydrogen gas. Saturn has gases. You cannot stand on Saturn.

    • Metallic hydrogen gas layer: Saturn is made of different gases. This layer is hot. The gases spin fast on Saturn.

  5. Consider reading parts of the script again to assist the students in selecting information.

  6. Staple the pages along the left edge of the bottom half of the black construction paper when the writing is complete.

  7. Slip the planet into the rings, and the book is complete.



  • What is Saturn’s system like?

  • What Saturn layer would you like to visit? Why? Would you need special equipment?

    Some ideas could be a protective suit, an airplane to fly through clouds, etc.

  • What other activities can the group do to learn more about what Saturn is like?

Share the Findings

  • Have the youth practice reading their books to each other.

  • Have the youth make presentations to the group or to other groups.


At the end of this activity, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Were the children happy with and proud of their books?

  • Were they comfortable reading their books out loud, or presenting?

  • Were they interested and engaged in creating the books?


Information for Families

  • Creating 3-D “books” is a great way for young people to become the “experts” on any topic.

  • Encourage parents to include their youth’s Saturn book in the family library.

  • Ask parents to help their child create a page labeled “About the Author.”

  • Parents can go to the NASA Saturn website with their child to collect information for a “Ten Facts About Saturn” book.

Role Model Resource

Amy Simon-Miller

Image credit: NASA/GSFC/W. Hrybyk

Amy Simon-Miller is an astrophysicist at Goddard Space Flight Center, specializing in planetary atmospheres of the giant planets. She is a Co-Investigator for one of Cassini’s instruments, responsible for science planning, command design, and data analysis. When Dr. Sally Ride became the first American woman in space, Amy knew then that she wanted to study space and work for NASA. One highlight in her career has been watching comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 fragments hit Jupiter from behind the scenes at the Space Telescope Science Institute. “We were just blown away by the spectacular images and the marks left by each impact.”

“Sometimes you have to tackle a problem from many different ways to understand it and you should never be afraid to ask for help until you do understand,” Amy says regarding science careers. “To advance in any field, we need people who think about problems in different ways!”

Read more about Amy


Taking Science to the Next Step

  • Give the youth time to go to the NASA website. Encourage them to browse the site looking for more Saturn information to add to their Saturn logs or the Saturn books. Ask them to brainstorm a list of questions they have after making the Saturn books.


  • Ask the youth to write a story about traveling to Saturn’s moons. Encourage them to include information from the script.

  • Have the youth add a page labeled “About the Author” and have them write a couple of paragraphs about themselves and their interest in Saturn.