It always amazes what I don’t know that I don’t know. With both a whole wide world and a world wide web around me and with access to a barrage of information at any given point in the day, I am always amazed at what I have missed. When I was in elementary school, we were told that Saturn’s rings were comprised of rock. I’m not sure if we even knew there is a great deal of ice in the rings of Saturn at that time. Evidently a whole lot has happened since then. I knew we had sent several probes to Saturn over the last years, but I somehow missed how much information was gathered during the last exploration of Saturn.
It was in 1979 that we first saw Saturn and just a few of its moons in a series of flyby shots from the Pioneer 11 spacecraft. The images were blurry and not good enough to get information about Saturn’s surface.
In 1980 Voyager I did another flyby of Saturn and some of its moons, giving us much better images. We saw the surface features of some moons and atmosphere.
In 1981, Voyager 2 again showed us some more photos and temperature findings as well. We saw that the rings of Saturn had changed as well.
In was in 1997 that the Titan spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral and carried the Cassini craft that was tasked to find out new information about Saturn, the ringed planet that is the seventh planet away from the sun. In 2002, twenty months from reaching Saturn, the probe captured its first image of Saturn. In 2004, Cassini discovered two new moons around Saturn (Methone and Pallene) to total sixty moons around Saturn. Also in 2004, on June 30, Cassini became the first spacecraft to orbit Saturn, a breathtaking example of technology in action. On January 13, 2005, the unthinkable happened. The Cassini launched a probe, the Huygens probe, which actually landed on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, for seventy-two minutes, which represented the first time, and only time so far, that anything landed on any outer solar system world. Scientists realized that Titan contains large clouds of water vapor above it. Scientists also discovered that there are geysers of liquid water and organic material that burst from another moon, Enceladus, and decided that they are from pockets of water near the surface of that moon. Fascinating discovery. Scientist also discovered (in 2013) that it rains DIAMONDS on Saturn (and Jupiter, too), as the element carbon is present. Evidently when there are lightening storms there, methane is turned into soot which hardens into graphite and finally into diamonds as they fall to the planet. According to the BBC, there are theorized to be about 1000 tons of diamonds created per year on Saturn. Some sources (Nova series, “The Planets: Saturn”, season 46, episode 15) say the size of the diamonds can range from a small speck of dust to the size of a small apartment! This is absolutely amazing to me. On Earth, diamonds form naturally when carbon is buried about one hundred miles below the surface. After being heated to approximately 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit and being compacted under pressure of around 725,000 pounds per square inch, it needs to quickly move to the Earth’s surface with magma in order to cool down. What is rare here on Earth is ubiquitous on Saturn.
If you are interested, Saturn is visible in the early morning sky in April, along with Jupiter and Mars, approximately one hour prior to sunrise or just before dawn in the Eastern Sky. You will be able to see Saturn with the naked eye but will need a high powered telescope to see its rings. Today, on April 15, Saturn and our moon will appear close together in the sky from Earth. Normally, Saturn is visible in the evening sky from July to December, which is something to look forward to after our stay at home orders likely will be lifted.
“Shine bright like a diamond
Shine bright like a diamond
Find light in the beautiful sea, I choose to be happy
You and I, you and I, we’re like diamonds in the sky...”
-“Diamonds” by Rhianna
Try something different. Why not get up early tomorrow to see this wonderful sight in the morning. Find “light in the beautiful sea” and “choose to be happy” during this uncertain pandemic. “Shine bright like a diamond” by helping others, checking in on family and friends, and staying positive during this tough time. Attitude is everything, they say.
Life is good; carpe diem, friends…….