Size Matters

Artist: Ron Miller

Artist rendition of J1407b by Ron Miller

So you thought Saturn was big? Well, it is…but heavenly body J1407b is even bigger than our darling Saturn and it’s surrounded by 37 rings that are 200 times the size of Saturn’s rings. Sit with that for a second.

Galileo discovered Saturn in 1610; that’s old news. Now a joint team of American and Dutch astronomers has published definitive findings on J1407b, which was first peeped in 2012. J1407b is a brown dwarf (i.e., not quite in Magnum territory): it’s smaller than a star, but bigger than a planet. And if you’re in a traveling mood, it’s also only (!) 434 light years away, in the constellation Centaurus. (BTW, this is our first discovery of rings outside of our solar system.) Astronomers speculate that J1407b’s massive, 90-million-kilometer-wide bracelets were carved out by orbiting moons.

A little context: according to Dutch astronomer, Matthew Kenworthy of Team J1407b, “If we could replace Saturn’s rings with the rings around J1407b, they would be easily visible at night and be many times larger than the full moon.”

J1407 in sky

Copyright: M. Kenworthy / Universiteit Leiden


Truth is Stranger than (Science) Fiction

Saturn and its moon, Titan

Earth is about twice as big as Titan (the little one), so imagine how massive Saturn is. Click on the photo to see them in motion.

This très cool, spooky-beautiful video by filmmaker Chris Abbas stars the planet Saturn and its moon Titan. All of these images were taken by NASA’s Cassini satellite while orbiting Saturn in 2007. (The haunting score is by Nine Inch Nails.) Every time I watch this mysterious little clip, I expect to see some alien spacecraft zip into the frame…..


By the time the Cassini spacecraft started sending these pictures back, it had been in space over 6 years. Each image took over 48 hours to reach Earth, and check it: what you see was shot more than 2 billion miles from wherever you are right now.

For more on what Cassini is up to: