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.