The Spike in the Ball - Saturn's Rings Edge-On

Tuesday, February 17 2009 @ 08:59 pm EST

Contributed by: bobmoody

The first time that I saw Saturn's rings go edge-on after I began my sojourn into astronomy in 1984, it was during the latest disappearance of the rings back in 1996. I actually missed the days when the rings seemed to disappear, but I did see it when it looked like a spike through a tennis ball. So odd seeing the rings like that.....what would Galileo have thought if he'd taken his first views of Saturn during one of these edge-on episodes and then watched as the rings re-developed over a three-to-five month period? Actually, Galileo DID see the edge-on event of 1612. Here are his own words from his notes.

"I do not know what to say in a case so surprising, so unlooked for and so novel." So it says on the Astronomy Picture of the Day website image for August 1, 1995.
Don't miss your current opportunity to see Saturn's rings as they go "edge-on" this September 4. It is a view to behold! HST/NASA images
Two other comparison images from Hubble Space Telescope showing the 1996 edge-on event.
There is also a link on this page to learn more about the process of the rings going edge-on to our line-of-sight.

Well it's that time once again. Saturn now appears through virtually all telescopes as a tennis ball with a long spike through the center. Of course, the bigger the telescope and the more power you're able to apply to the view, the better you'll see it. Any 60mm telescope at about 40X to 50X will do. Just try to keep it as steady as you can if it has the conventional "cheapie" tripod and eyepieces. But in just a few more weeks, that magical time will occur when the rings seem to disappear for a week or so before once again tilting the other way from our line-of-sight, and slowly tilt farther and farther each week until it again resembles the iconic image of Saturn and its magnificent rings that we're all used to. If you've never seen Saturn like this, you owe yourself the opportunity to do so and then watch carefully every time you're out viewing to see how much more the rings have grown since your previous time seeing them. Its a sight you might not ever forget.

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