Ever since I could remember, my dad has had a telescope stationed by one of the windows in my childhood home. On especially clear nights, we would sit on the floor and gaze into the lens and identify stars (and on occasion, planets). Now that I’ve grown up and had a child of my own, the admiration of astronomy has been passed down from my dad to me and from me to Allan.
My dad has since gotten Allan his own telescope and Allan has encountered his own exciting astronomy adventures. One of his recent out of this world wonder was, “how many rings does Saturn have” and although we couldn’t exactly spy on Saturn using his telescope, we were able to visit the planetarium in Newport News, Virginia.
It was a chilly and slightly wispy night and we were able to use the planetarium’s scope to view some of Saturn’s surface, but not as much as we would’ve liked. We still couldn’t tell how many rings Saturn had! We were lucky, though, to discover that the planetarium was featuring a short video about Saturn, its rings (and moons), and the Cassini mission. And we learned that this beautifully ringed planet is a planet of illusions.
Contrary to popular belief, Saturn doesn’t really have rings at all. Instead, the rings are really chunks of ice and rock gravitating around Saturn. They gravitate so fast that the chunks appear to be continuous rings around Saturn. The first person to discover this little known fact was Galileo. He owned and used a “home telescope” to first view Saturn and once he saw the rings, he became more interested about them, the atmosphere, and the moons of Saturn.
Galileo, with a more sophisticated telescope, discovered that Saturn has seven moons and its atmosphere is 75% hydrogen and 25% helium. There are other trace chemicals on the planet that make it completely unlivable by any living being.
Following Galileo’s course, there have been plenty of other astronomers who have had a cosmic interest in Saturn and all it encompasses. One of the most famous NASA mission regarding Saturn is the Cassini mission. The Cassini spacecraft was the first of its kind to get a closer look at Saturn and all its facets.
NASA has recently approved the continuation of Cassini’s mission until 2017. They feel it is extremely important to discover Saturn’s role in the solar system and how it affects the other planets and their gravitational pull.
Since our trip to the planetarium, Allan has decided that Saturn is his favorite planet. He can’t exactly explain why, so we’ll take “just because” as an answer.
Thanks for reading and remember to always wonder!