Planetary scientist ranks Saturn emoji, and there's a clear winner

Not every emoji designer is tuned in to the subtleties of the ringed planet.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser

Apple's ringed-planet emoji has a lot going for it, but it also has a pretty severe tilt problem.


James O'Donoghue is a planetary scientist with JAXA, Japan's space agency. He used to work at NASA and has published papers on Saturn's atmosphere and rings. He knows a thing or two about our solar system's most gloriously ringed planet.

O'Donoghue took to Twitter on Wednesday to offer up a tough but fair assessment of the accuracy of Saturn emoji from Apple , Facebook, Google , Microsoft, Twitter and WhatsApp

O'Donoghue's entire thread is worth a browse. You will pick up some nifty Saturn facts along the way and gain a new appreciation for what it takes to pull off an authentic emoji design.

For reference, check out this Hubble Space Telescope portrait of Saturn from 2019.


Hubble captured this portrait of Saturn in 2019.

NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley)

While Apple did a "nice job capturing the golden yellow shades of Saturn's cloud tops," it failed a major test by exaggerating Saturn's tilt way past 26.7 degrees. O'Donoghue named Apple's effort the overall winner for atmosphere, but it didn't quite top the competition. 

The underdog winner of the scientist's informal contest was WhatsApp, thanks to the emoji designer's dead-on tilt and faithful rendition of the planet's rings.

Some of the emoji strayed far from the path of truth, with O'Donoghue labeling Twitter's bright-orange-and-yellow attempt as "the most offensive of all."

It's all in good fun, but it highlights how cartoon emoji aren't immune from scrutiny. At least the Saturn emoji appearance isn't as controversial as when the egg went missing from Google's salad.

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