November 23, 1997
In my opinion, the most startling view to be had with a small telescope is Saturn. I mean, looking at it with the naked eye, itís big, bright, and sparkly. Impressive enough, sure, but when you put even a moderately powered telescope on that baby, wow! Rings, I tell you, Saturn has rings! It was easy for me to see the majestic rings encircling the planet, its patterned surface swirling below.
How would like to have been Christiaan Huygens, the Dutch physicist and astronomer who discovered Saturnís rings in 1655? What look of wonder must have crossed his face on seeing the ringed planet?
Imagine this scene:
It is night in Holland, 1655. Christiaan Huygens peers through a telescope, aimed at the brightly glowing glob of gas called Saturn. His wife, Mrs. Huygens, sticks her head out the window.
MRS. HUYGENS: Christiaan, enough already!
CHRISTIAAN: Just one more moment, dear. Iíve beefed up the power on my telescope, and wish to make a final observation of Saturn.
MRS. HUYGENS: Saturn, oh, sure, Saturn. And what about carving those new shoes for little Hilgard?
CHRISTIAAN: I told you, Iíd carve them tomorrow!
MRS. HUYGENS: Spending all hours of the night, staring off at who knows what Ö meanwhile, Hilgard has to wear those ridiculous cloth shoes.
CHRISTIAAN: I said Iíd carve a new pair tomorrow. You never stop, do you?
MRS. HUYGENS: (muttering) Guess you donít care about your children Ö
CHRISTIAAN: Will you stop with that whole "donít care about the kids" rap? You know I do. (Adjusts telescope.) Holy Mary, Mother of Jesus of Nazareth!!!
MRS. HUYGENS: What is it?
CHRISTIAAN: (Peering through scope, amazed) Look at that. Look at that. Rings.
MRS. HUYGENS: What?
CHRISTIAN: Rings. Around that star.
MRS. HUYGENS: Are you feeling all right, dear?
CHRISTIAAN: By the two "A"ís in my name, I shall never see anything more beautiful.
MRS. HUYGENS: Hey!
CHRISTIAAN: Excepting, of course, you, my love.
MRS. HUYGENS: Thatís better. Now whatís the deal with those rings?
CHRISTIAAN: Oh, never mind. Iíll pop off a little note to Izzy Newton in the morning.
MRS. HUYGENS: Dear, heís 13 years old. Itís only 1655.
CHRISTIANN: Right, right Ö well, the note will have to wait then, wonít it?
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