Sunday, March 1, 2009

Lord of the Rings

Excuse the really bad pun (most of mine are - see "Not So Punny").  Saturn, while not the only planet with rings (Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune do as well), is the best known.  

If you look through a telescope, you'll be impressed - IF you aren't looking to see a spectacular picture like what we see on this page.  No, what Saturn will look like to the naked eye is a yellow star.  With a small scope, you will see a yellow star with "ears" or "handles" (which is how Galileo described it).  With a better scope, you can make out bands on the rings and on the planet some.  

Saturn is the only planet named after a titan.  In fact, Saturn and Uranus are the only two that are named after something other than a god.  Saturn makes sense - the Romans were naming the planets and they liked Saturn.  He was still worshipped and they still had festivals of him.  The Greeks were not so fond of him (Cronus).  

Many of its 60 moons are named after various titans, with it largest one being named (so uncreatively) plain Titan.  However, many are named after other mythology figures and even then, they are not all Roman.  There is even one named after the Norse wolf of destruction, Fenrir.

This is the last originally named planets.  None of the other planets can be seen with the naked eye (sounds kinky), but they have their own issues that we'll get to later.  If you want to see Saturn like the ancients did, you need to go out about 10:30 tonight and look East-Southeast (for those of you that are directionally challenged, look toward the area the sun rises and turn slightly to the right).  It should be there, nice and yellow for you to find.  If you are an early riser, you can see it at around 5:00 in the morning as it dips into the west.  Saturn is not as close as it could be and so may not be as bright as it can be, but should still be seeable.  These directions are for those in the Northern Hemisphere.  For those of us that are south of the equator, I'm sorry, but I can't find my guide for your sky right now.  The best way to find it would be to find the constellation Leo if it is viewable for you tonight.  Saturn is just below it.

Next time - We learn the answer to the age old question, what did Saturn say when he saw his dad in the shower?

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