Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Saturn: It's Rings and Mythology

The rings of Saturn span a distance of about 185,000 miles yet they are only about 1/2 mile thick. When the path of the earth crosses the plain of Saturn's rings (every fifteen years) the rings seem to disappear to all but the most powerful telescopes. It's described as 'like looking at the edge of a razor blade in the dark.' It is thought that the rings are the result of a moon of Saturn that crossed the Roche limit and the gravitational pull of Saturn pulled it apart.
Saturn is a gas giant, (97% Hydrogen and 3% Helium) the second largest planet in our solar system with a diameter of about 75,000 miles. It's rotating so fast that a Saturn day is only about 10.5 hours. The rotation causes the planet's shape to be slightly flat at it's poles and extended at it's equator (roughly a 10% difference). One Saturn year is equal to 29.5 earth years. The wind near the equator is estimated to reach speeds of 1,100 miles per hour or 'supersonic' speeds. The nearer the poles, the more the wind speed falls off. Recently discovered is a perpetual giant storm on Saturn that has an 'eye' similarly as does Jupiter.
Some observers believe that the Star of Bethlehem was a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn.
In ancient times, Dec. 25 was the date of the lavish Roman festival of Saturnalia. It was during this pagan festival that people celebrated by decorating their homes and buildings and exchanging gifts. Some believe that early Christians chose December 25 as the time that they could celebrate Christs birth and blend in to escape persecution. In the fourth century AD the Roman Emperor Constantine made December 25th the official day to celebrate the birth of Christ.
Others will point out that Saturn was one of the names of Nimrod, (Genesis 10) whose Egyptian name was Osirus, (the god of the underworld) and note the similarity between the name of the planet Saturn and 'Satan'. In Roman myth he was one of the Titans and the god of agriculture.
photo from the Cassini Spacecraft/NASA/JPL

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