Looking Up: Saturn Slides Off Into The Sunset

Oct 23, 2017

Credit NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute / nasa.gov

This week on Looking Up Bruce Bookout gives us a brief archeoastronomy lesson on the planet Saturn.

As summer wanes, one of the most beautiful planets in the heavens will be leaving our skies for the far side of the solar system. As Saturn moves behind the sun for the next several months, let’s “ring” around some of Saturn’s legends.

The Babylonians were apparently the first to assert that the distant planets were the “gods” of former times.  Anu, first in the line of gods and kings of the ancient Babylonians was linked to the planet Saturn. 

The ancient Hebrews regarded their race as having been "Saturnian" in the beginning, when they lived under the rule of the creator El. That is, the Hebrews honored the same ancestral tie to Saturn as did the Romans.  To the Romans he was known as Cronus, the first God ruler of the universe, who would eventually be overthrown by Zeus and his brothers.

The consistency with which early cultures identity Saturn as a former creator-king is extraordinary. The Zoroastrians of ancient Persia knew Saturn as the heaven-sustaining Zurvãn. The Iranian god-king Yima, the Chinese mythical emperor Huang-ti, and even the Tahitian’s god Fetu-tea were all linked to Saturn.

Mexican natives recall that prior to the present age, an exemplary sun ruled the world, but this was not the sun of today. To the Aztecs it was Quetzalcoatl. To the Maya it was the primeval sun god Huracan. The Incas of Peru spoke of a former sun superior to the present sun. To the ancient Egyptians, the sun god Atum-Ra, reined for a time, then retired from the world.   

Whether it be a God-King or ancient Sun, Saturn still basks in an splendor matched by no other planet. 

If you’d like to take a closer look at Saturn, or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit csastro.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties.