Exploring Space: Images from NASA - A VISIT TO SATURN

A VISIT TO SATURN (Illustration) Education Famous Historical Events Famous People Geography Aviation & Space Exploration STEM Astronomy

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope is able to “see” infrared light, invisible to the human eye. Examining Saturn, and its many rings, Spitzer discovers that Saturn’s largest ring is nearly invisible: “The artist's conception simulates an infrared view of the giant ring. Saturn appears as just a small dot from outside the band of ice and dust. The bulk of the ring material starts about six million kilometers (3.7 million miles) away from the planet and extends outward roughly another 12 million kilometers (7.4 million miles). The ring's diameter is equivalent to roughly 300 Saturns lined up side to side.” Image (click on it for a great view) credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Keck.


As Galileo looked through his telescope, in 1610, he was surprised to see that Saturn seemed to have objects on either side. As he continued to study this planet - the most distant known at the time - he initially drew it as though it had handles.

With his relatively powerful telescope, Christiaan Huygens (a Dutch astronomer) could see more clearly than Galileo. In 1655, he discovered Saturn's largest moon, called Titan. (Follow the link, for a virtual tour, courtesy NASA). 

In 1659, Huygens suggested that Saturn was surrounded by a ring which was thin and flat. Sixteen years later, Jean-Dominique Cassini discovered the planet’s rings were actually divided into two parts - now known as A and B.

Honoring the work of Cassini and Huygens, NASA - partnering with the European and Italian Space Agencies - sent the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn on October 15, 1997. It took seven years for the spacecraft, and its probe, to arrive at their destination.

NASA developed the orbiter (Cassini) and ESA developed the probe (Huygens). Together, these remarkable inventions are providing the world with in-depth information about the ringed planet.

The first spacecraft to orbit Saturn, Cassini (on a four-year mission) studies the features of the planet’s  rings  while  the Huygens probe (after making a remarkable descent) records surprising images of Titan, largest of Saturn’s dozens of moons.

As Cassini  and Huygens  continue to explore Saturn and its moons, other space missions continue elsewhere. Hubble, expected to “retire” at the end of 2010, will be replaced with an even more powerful orbiting telescope - the James Webb.

Time, and technology, have proven Galileo right (despite all the contemporary allegations and accusations against him). His legendary words about the Earth (to the inquisitors) - “And yet, it moves” - and his pioneering work with the telescope (which helped him discover Jupiter's four largest moons) form part of the foundation on which today’s space explorations rest. 

And ... to give Galileo his due ... NASA named its missionto Jupiter, after him.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jun 01, 2008

Updated Last Revision: May 30, 2017

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"A VISIT TO SATURN" AwesomeStories.com. Jun 01, 2008. Feb 26, 2020.
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