Space: Ears, Rings and Cassini's Gap

No one can say what keen-eyed observer in the dawn of history first picked out Saturn as a planet, or heavenly wanderer, from the dizzying background of myriad fixed stars. Probably the first stargazers to leave a record of Saturn's appearance in different parts of the night sky were the Sumerians.

They lived in southern Mesopotamia about 5,000 years ago and, according to George Michanowsky, a scholar of cuneiform writing, they called the planet Sag-Ush, regarding it as a male fertility symbol. The Babylonians, who eventually ruled over that part of Mesopotamia, watched the heavens from the tops of their ziggurats. To...

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