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Word Art: Saturn [Astronomy Series]

Last night I met someone–the new friend of an old friend–who had a symbol for Saturn worked into a tattoo on his arm.  It was, to my momentary bafflement, entirely unlike the symbol for Saturn that I’d traced and rendered into Word Art.  The symbol he’d chosen was one that dated back to Medieval times whereas the one I’d used had been swiped from the NASA website.  It struck me as an interesting object lesson in the mutability of symbols over time.



The one with the rings.

One, to be proper, with the most visible rings, since all the gas giants have rings of some sort.

(It’s also possible that one of Saturn’s moons, Rhea, has a faint ring of its own.)

But the rings of Saturn are bold enough to be seen easily from the surface of Earth through a mere telescope.

Galileo Galilei was first to see them through his own telescope, but as he knew now what he was looking at, he was perplexed by them.

At first he thought Saturn was “composed of three” and when the rings were tilted towards the Earth and thus unable to be seen, Galileo asked “Has Saturn swallowed his children?”

It was Christian Huygens, about half a century later who described “a thin, flat ring, nowhere touching, inclined to the ecliptic.”

Robert Hooke noted the shadows cast upon the rings.

Giovanni Domenico Cassini realized that these rings were in fact numerous rings with gaps in between.

One of these gaps is to this day known as the Cassini Division.

Even those with only an elementary school level understanding of astronomy will know Saturn at but a glance by its rings.

The rings are mostly frozen water ice in fragments as small as pebbles and as large as automobiles.

These rings are kept sharpened by the shepherd moons, which either take in or deflect any matter that drifts outside the boundaries.

The moons of Saturn are numerous. Many are given names of the Titans as Saturn the god was the ruler of the Titans.

When there were discovered more moons than there were Titans to name them after, other mythologies were put up to the task.

The largest of the Titan-named moons is actually called Titan. It is larger than the planet Mercury, though not quite as dense.

There is apparently some sort of liquid on its face, though hydrogen rather than water.

It may be a twin to Earth in its infancy and some have suggested a possibility of life deep underground.  Or, at least, a place where it could form.

The first to see Titan was the first to detect rings about Saturn–Huygens, again.

The probe that landed on the surface of Titan carried his name.

The orbiter that took the probe and also investigated the rings was given the name Cassini.

The Cassini craft also detected what seems to be water and ‘organic material’ spewing out of a geyser on one of Saturn’s moons, Enceladus.

(Strange that we looked for life as close as Mars and may end up finding it as far away as Saturn’s moons.)

Some moons of the distant past may have come apart as they drew too close or collided with something and thus formed Saturn’s rings.

(Perhaps Saturn really does eat its children.)

Saturn is the farthest of the planets to be seen by the ancients.

The Babylonians linked it to the harvest god Ninib.

The astronomers of China called it Tu Xing, and linked it to the element of earth.

These observers all noted the slow crawl of the star as it wandered on its planetary path and Babylonian astronomers correctly saw this as evidence that was the farthest away of the planets that they could see.

The Greeks also observed it, called it the star of Kronos (Saturn being Rome’s rendition thereof.)

The Greeks also called it Phainon or brilliant star (a strange term for what is, by comparison, a rather dim planet.)

This slow, sluggish moving planet was then associated with a certain sense of moodiness, to the point that to this day, the adjective of ‘saturnine’ is applied to describe someone who is melancholy and uncommunicative.

The planet itself rotates at a comparatively rapid rate (though the exact time of rotation as been a little tricky to gauge, the best estimates of all existing information time a day on Saturn to be ten and a half hours) but takes some thirty years to make its way around the sun.

(Astrologers make the claim that this is why people go a bit nuts when turning thirty–because Saturn is now back where it was when that person was born.)

Saturn has a similar magnetosphere to Jupiter, though a weaker one, and solar wind colliding with it forms flashes of aurorae at the poles of the planet.

Like Jupiter it also creates more heat than it takes from the Sun.

Cassini (the spacecraft) still watches Saturn as these words are written, so more is yet to find.

Since I’d done the planets in order starting from Mercury and working my way out to Neptune, I found myself occasionally referring back to previous planets as I progressed.  Since much of the words around Mars centered on the possibilities of life there I couldn’t resist making note that there are apparently better chances of life in the vicinity of Saturn according to current research.

Prints of this work are available here.

The original is not for sale.

1 comment to Word Art: Saturn [Astronomy Series]

  • Awesome Saturn history poem whatever you call it ,)

    It’s so interesting how different cultures each added their own science and
    beliefs to the stars – it makes it all the more interesting !
    Creative Banner BTW !!

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