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What Would Saturn Look Like If It Passed Into Earth’s Orbit? (Answer: Pretty Dang Awesome)

"S'up, Earth? Uranus and Neptune say hello."

Imagine that gravitational forces were completely irrelevant and Saturn just decided to pop by for a visit en route to the Sun. I don’t know; maybe it wanted to go on a playdate with the Moon or something. I heard they’re pretty tight. Anyway, this video is pretty mathematically accurate to what that encounter would look like.

As Phil Plait points out in his Bad Astronomer column for Slate, the video intentionally ignores the effect that Saturn’s gravity would have on the Earth—mostly because it would straight-up ruin us. First it would toss the Moon right out of Earth’s orbit (so much for that playdate), and then Saturn’s rings would start to heat up and form a comet-like stream beyond the planet. Meanwhile, this would also be happening:

By the time Saturn is at the same distance as the Moon, its tides would be many thousands of times stronger than the Moon’s. Fault lines would rupture, volcanoes would blow their tops, and anything left on the surface of the Earth would be wiped out.

And then comes the final blow. Judging from where we hit the rings, Nick depicts Saturn passing about 130,000 km from Earth. At closest approach, the tidal force Saturn wreaks on Earth would be a staggering 200,000 times the Moon’s! This distance is well inside Saturn’s Roche Limit, the distance from Saturn where the bigger planet’s tidal force is so strong it literally tears our planet apart.

You know that Twilight Zone episode where the Earth goes careening into the Sun? Imagine that, but a thousand times more ridiculous. So, it’s a good thing that Saturn’s staying right where it is for now.

(via Slate, image via Yeti Dynamics)

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