Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/49

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39
THE RINGED PLANET

THE RINGED PLANET.

DURING the months of September, October, and November, Mars and Saturn are companions as evening-stars. It will not be difficult to recognize them, though the ruddy glories of Mars have been greatly reduced since July and August, when he shared with Jupiter the dominion over the western skies after sunset. The dull-yellow lustre of Saturn differs markedly from the red but more star-like light of Mars; and, as the two planets draw near to each other late in November (making their nearest approach on the 20th), it will be interesting to observe the contrast between the red and yellow planets of the solar system. Striking, however, as this contrast will be found to be, it is insignificant compared with the real contrast which exists between the two planets. Mars is the least but one of the primary members of the solar family, and, although he pursues a course outside the earth's, he is unlike all the other superior planets in being unaccompanied by any moon; his small orb, also, appears to have but a shallow atmospheric envelope, while in physical constitution he apparently occupies a position between the earth and the moon. Saturn, on the other hand, is inferior only to Jupiter in dimensions and mass, while he is superior to Jupiter not only in the astronomical sense that he travels on a wider orbit, but in the extent and importance of the scheme over which he bears sway; his orb, moreover, like that of Jupiter, appears to be the scene of marvelous processes of change, implying a condition altogether unlike that of the earth on which we live.

We propose to give a brief sketch of what has been ascertained respecting this wonderful planet, the most beautiful telescopic object in the whole heavens, and the one which throws the clearest light upon the nature of the solar system, and particularly of those giant planets which circle outside the zone of asteroids.

We would at the outset impress upon the reader the necessity of raising his thoughts above those feeble conceptions respecting Saturn and his system which are suggested by the ordinary pictures of the planet. When we see Saturn presented as a ball within a ring, or more carefully pictured as a striped globe within a system of rings, we are apt to regard the ideas suggested by such drawings as affording a true estimate of the planet's nature. In fact, many believe that the planet and its rings are really like what is presented in these pictures. It should be understood that what has been actually seen of Saturn by telescopic means cannot, in the nature of things, afford any true picture of the planet and its ring system. The picture must be filled in, not by the imagination, but by the aid of reason; and then, though much will still remain unknown, we shall have at least a far juster conception of the glories of the ringed world than when we simply