Saturn in a Second-Hand Telescope


When I was a ten, my Dad – a veterinarian – kicked-off my lifelong love for science when he brought home a second-hand telescope that he himself had scoped out in the local Pennysaver. That night was the first of many we would spend in the backyard looking up at the stars, marveling at it all, creating father-son memories that still glow.

And one of the coolest things I remember was the first time we caught sight of a relatively less-distant celestial object — the great ringed giant, Saturn.  In our Pennysaver telescope it was little more than a yellow-brownish diamond, slightly bigger than, and standing out from, the pin-prick stars that surrounded it.  To see that little brownish-yellow smudge in the eyepiece and to know what it was we were seeing was like pulling off a kind of alchemy – the magic of that moment, with my Dad, and the flimsy telescope he found in the Pennysaver, transmuting a backyard hill on a cold autumn night into a starry expanse from which we could marvel at the massive, swirling, deadly, beautiful, ringed planet that is so awe-full as to be simultaneously beautiful and a little frightening.

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If recent news is any guide, Saturn has not lost its ability to mystify and inspire.  It, or rather its moon Enceladus, has just been added to the list of places in our solar system which one day may be found to harbor life.  Scientists, analyzing data from the Cassini probe in orbit around Saturn, now have evidence that suggests a liquid-water ocean may exist beneath the icy surface of Enceladus.

If you want to find out why the ringed planet so captured my young imagination (should you still need more reasons), your best bet is to visit yourself – departures leaving right now, via our interactive tour of Saturn.

Saturn is but one of our eight planetary neighbors featured in A Traveler’s Guide to the Planets – a three night event starting Sunday and going through this Tuesday.

A Traveler’s Guide to the Planets
FEB 14-16, starting 9P et/pt