Home Page Science Frontiers

No. 60: Nov-Dec 1988

Issue Contents

Other pages

Other Interesting Sites











Why didn't galileo resolve saturn's rings?

Several times in SF and our catalogs, we have intimated that Saturn's rings may be of recent vintage or perhaps have changed in historical times. In this vein, K. Fabian writes about an interesting inconsistency:

"In the early 17th Century, Galileo discovered that the planet Mars goes through a minor gibbous phase. Even in its maximum gibbous phase, Mars is 88% illuminated. Quoting James Muirden in the Amateur Astronomer's Handbook, 'It is remarkable that Galileo was able to make out the phase with his tiny telescope.'

"Even more amazing, in my opinion, is that Galileo, while he was able to resolve the slight phase of Mars, was unable to resolve the major ring around Saturn. Mars is a difficult object in a small telescope, while Saturn is easily resolved as a ringed planet in even a 40-mm spotting scope at 30X. Why did the rings of Saturn elude Galileo, while the more difficult Martian phases did not? Perhaps at the time of Galileo the rings of Saturn were much more difficult to observe than they are today."

(Fabian, Karl; personal communication, September 9, 1988.)

Reference. For more on the many anomalies of Saturn's rings, see ALR in the catalog: The Moon and the Pla nets. Description here.

From Science Frontiers #60, NOV-DEC 1988. 1988-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987