Puzzle Inspired Story

Saturn’s Secrets

To the naked eye, Saturn does not appear much different from other planets. Wandering, as all planets do, against the background of fixed stars, Saturn keeps its main secret, the rings, safely hidden behind a technological hurdle. The rings are not visible under magnifications smaller than 25x. As a result, not only can’t they be seen by the naked eye, but even the commonly available binoculars are of no help. Galileo, the first astronomer to use a crude telescope, did not recognize what he saw; the great scientist mistook the rings for two moons. It was only Christian Huygens who realized that what he observed were rings; he was credited with their discovery in 1655. Giovanni Domenico Cassini was the first to see the gap in the rings in 1675 using a telescope 20 ft in length, and magnification 90x.

Yet even today’s largest telescopes fail to resolve one singular feature of the planet. In 1980, the Voyager 1 spacecraft took a picture of Saturn’s north pole, showing a vortex in the shape of a regular hexagon. The presence of the hexagon was confirmed by the Cassini spacecraft in 2006. The hexagon’s straight sides are greater in length than Earth’s diameter. The mechanism generating the vortex is unknown.



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