Ring In, Ring Out.

Source: SkyView app

Right now I can walk out into the driveway in the evenings and, if the sky is clear, I can see Saturn, even with the holiday lights and street lights. It’s bright and distinctive and, depending on the time, is even above the treetops in the constellation Aquarius. If I take my telescope out I can just see the rings. Maybe that’s why I’ve been getting dire “warnings” that Saturn’s rings will “disappear” in 2025. They’re not disappearing—at least not yet. Saturn tilts from our perspective and sometimes the title means the edge of the very thin rings is toward us. It’s something Galileo noticed: at first he thought the rings were two big planets on either side of Saturn and then when he went back two years later and looked they were gone. Then they came back. And they’ll come back after 2025 too.

Except eventually they won’t. Saturn’s rings, held in place by shepherd moons and gravity, are being absorbed into the planet. Eventually they’ll vanish entirely. It’ll take a few hundred million years so it’s unlikely any of us will be around but still, without its rings, Saturn loses something. It becomes just another gas giant.

Saturn in mythology was also the god of time—the Roman equivalent of Greek Cronos, who had a wild December celebration.

It seemed oddly fitting that I could look down the driveway on a cold night, wondering where the year went, and see Saturn just above the bare, skeletal trees. Nothing is permanent. The only constant is change. Before long it’ll be time to ring in the new year.

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  1. M.L. James

    Chris, I remember the first time I saw Saturn’s rings through a telescope — breathtaking. I always knew it was there, but when you see the rings for yourself, it’s just a whole other experience. The same when I saw a spiral galaxy that was something like 40 million light years away. Or was that 400 million light years away? It was a very long ways away. And all I could think is that I was looking back in time. It still blows my mind just thinking about it. If I could get back to Earth safely and without too much effort, I’d love to take a ride around our solar system! So grateful for James Webb and Hubble? Mona

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Mona, seeing Saturn’s rings through a telescope really is something, especially if it’s powerful enough to see the Cassini division. It’s just amazing to me to think that there must have been a time when Saturn didn’t have rings, and their beauty comes from the violent destruction of whole worlds. It’s also amazing how we can literally look back in time by looking at the stars. The other day I was reading something about a picture the Webb telescope had taken and there was a note that, for all we know, the nebulae pictured have coalesced into an Earth-like planet. But we’ll never know because of how long it will take the light from that place now to reach us.


    Your blog is constantly compelling, Chris.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Thanks for not running rings around me, Ann.


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