Enjoy them while you can, because according to a new analysis of data from the Keck 10 meter telescope at Mauna Kea, Saturn’s rings are eroding away. Data gathered 10 years ago by Voyager space probes indicated that the water ice particles that make up Saturn’s ring system were being pulled out of the rings and spiraling down magnetic field lines from the inner edge of the rings to the planet. Given how quickly the rings seem to be deteriorating, the rings probably haven’t been around more than 100 million years.
Think of it this way; the dinosaurs only got to see the rings for around the first 35 million of those 100 million years before they died out.
50 years ago astronauts Jim Lovell, Frank Borman, and Bill Anders left Earth on Apollo 8 for their historic circumnavigation of the moon. With that, they became the first humans to enter the gravitational sphere of influence of another celestial body. Not only was the mission the most important precursor to the first human landing just seven months later, but it was also the mission that gave us on Earth the most riveting view and most thorough definition of our ‘Spaceship Earth’ via the now iconic ‘Earthrise’ image. The crew orbited the Moon ten times over the course of 20 hours, during which they made a Christmas Eve television broadcast in which they read the first ten verses from the Book of Genesis. At the time, the broadcast was the most watched TV program ever.
Given the dearth of daylight during this solstice season, there is plenty to be seen overhead: In the pre-dawn sky, from 6:00a – 6:30a, Venus, Jupiter, Mercury. Then after sunset – Mars can be spotted in the southwest.