Otherworldly Saturn   Leave a comment

Few places capture our imagination like Saturn. With its myriad of rings and moons, it shines above us in the night sky as it travels along the ecliptic.  It’s always been inspiration for sci-fi fans too. Anyone who’s ever glanced at pulp sci-fi fiction covers might have noticed ringed planets hovering in the background as a elongated oval-shaped finned spaceship rocketed past.

action127_22

“Tommy Tomorrow,” created by Jack Schiff, George Kashdan, Bernie Breslauer, Virgil Finlay, and Howard Sherman, DC Comics

Take, for example, our friend Tommy Tomorrow. Created in 1947, he roamed the heavens in his futuristic 1988 space jet, zipping past a rather featureless Saturn-like planet, as illustrated above, while another Saturn-ish red planet with gold rings spins in the distance.

Systema Saturn

Early drawings of Saturn. From the Systema Saturnium (Fig. 67)

Early astronomers struggled to draw what they’d seen through primitive telescopes. While they seemed to understand that its appearance changed in relation to its orbit around the sun and the earth, they couldn’t always account for its rings. A quick glance tells the viewer that something’s going on with Saturn, but just exactly what, they couldn’t be sure.

As telescopes grew more sophisticated, astronomers were able to recreate more accurate  images of Saturn.

Antique Saturn

19th century Illustration of Saturn

 

And photographers capabilities grew, so did their ability to capture Saturn.

1879 Jupiter and 1885 Saturn

A composite photo of  Jupiter (1879) and Saturn (1885)

In 1973, NASA launched Pioneer 11. Its mission included photographing Saturn. While previous photos of this planet taken from the Earth resulted in blurry, yellowish images, Pioneer 11’s photos revealed tantalizing clues about its nature, as well as its moons.

Saturn Pioneer 11

NASA image, Saturn and Titan as seen by Pioneer 11

None, though, can compare to the 20-year mission of Cassini. Launched in 1997, the Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative partnership between NASA and ESA to conduct an exhaustive exploration of the ringed jewel of the solar system. The images sent back are like none other.

2802_rings-690w3

NASA, Cassini-Huygens mission image of Saturn

On September 15, 2017, the Cassini mission will come to a fiery end, as it crashes into the atmosphere of Saturn, ending a glorious 13-year run. It’s been an amazing journey, and without a doubt, its legacy will continue to fascinate astronomers and ordinary folk like me. You’ve done well, Cassini!

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: