“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.”
If ever the outer reach of the Solar System becomes a tourist attraction, top billing will surely go to the planet Saturn. In some ways, it is not unique. It is a gas giant planet, rather like Jupiter and its smaller cousins, Uranus and Neptune. It has a system of rings around it – again, like Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune. But just as you might see a family of sisters that all resemble each other, but one is stunningly beautiful, the most gorgeous of the outer planets has to be Saturn. I find it remarkable that Genesis 1 merely reports, “He made the stars also”. Why does the verse not continue in parentheses, “In particular, God made that most wonderful of astronomical objects, the planet Saturn”?
Galileo was the first in modern times to see the rings of Saturn, in 1610. As a boy, I remember reading more detail that had been gleaned from powerful telescopes. Now, however, space probes have visited this giant world, the most well known of which was the Cassini Mission, launched in 1997, and deliberately crashed into Saturn in early 2018, with more than 20 years of successful photographs and data collection.
As a boy, I was very keen on astronomical facts, so I remember reading that Saturn had three rings. We now know that there are hundreds. Many of these rings are braided, and shepherded by tiny satellites or moons. The amount of structure is such that, today, astronomers estimate that the rings cannot be more than 100 million years old. They could, of course, be much younger than that – for instance, they could be 6,000 years old.