• U.S.

24 Years Ago In Time

1 minute read

Now 2.2 billion miles away from Earth, the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft is bearing down on SATURN. Much of our knowledge of that planet dates from Voyager 1’s close encounter in 1980, which TIME chronicled in a cover story.

After only the most cursory study of Voyager’s flood of data, scientists were staggered by a succession of discoveries. Many involved Saturn’s rings, which until the recent finding of similar features around Uranus and Jupiter were thought to be unique. Before Voyager’s visit only six Saturnian rings and a few gaps between them were known. Now there seem to be 1,000 rings or so. One of the so-called gaps may contain several dozen ringlets … Saturn’s entourage of other satellites, until now no more than bright gleams in earthly telescopes, also proliferated–by three–to at least 15. Chunks of ice and rock perhaps dating back to the birth of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago, these moons emerged as distinctive and different, showing scars from the millennial pounding of meteorites and possibly comets, as well as cracks from their own version of earthquakes.

–TIME, Nov. 24, 1980

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com