When Galileo Discovered Saturn’s Ears

“On Saturn, people live to be two hundred and five.” —Stevie Wonder

In A Nutshell

In 1613, Italian astronomer Galileo turned his telescope to Saturn. Not realizing that the shape around the equator was the planet’s rings, he naturally concluded that Saturn had ears.

The Whole Bushel

It’s easy to forget now how difficult stargazing was in the early 17th century. The first telescope had only been constructed in 1608 and even Galileo’s best designs only gave a magnification 30 times greater than the naked eye. It’s thanks to these limitations that the great astronomer made his biggest (and most hilarious) error.

In 1610, Galileo had already proved that the Moon wasn’t smooth, that the sun had spots, and that Jupiter had moons. Doubtlessly flush with confidence, he now turned his telescope to distant Saturn—and entered a world of confusion.

“Saturn” appeared to be made of three connected objects: a giant central disc and two smaller ones protruding from the sides (not unlike a famous, modern mouse-shaped logo). Unsure what to make of this, Galileo tried again in 1612, only to discover that the smaller discs had seemingly vanished. When he checked back up on this mysterious planet the following year, the discs had reappeared. It’s at this point that one of the greatest scientists who ever lived famously declared that Saturn had “ears.”

It didn’t take long to prove him wrong. Fast forward to 1655 and Christiaan Huygens became the first human being to correctly identify Saturn’s rings. But for four decades the best guess one of our planet’s greatest minds could muster was that Saturn was the intergalactic equivalent of the Mickey Mouse logo, wiggling its way through space a million miles away. By contrast, the rings themselves are almost a disappointment.

Show Me The Proof

National Geographic: Finding Saturn’s Ears
Saturn all ears in heavenly I-spy

  • Ste Chez

    Somehow I think it was before 1910!

  • Sewo

    LOL 1910!!!!!! HAHAHA



  • Matthew Price

    Knowledgenuts is a load of fucking shite.

    • As opposed to the gleaming gems that are you comments?

  • inconspicuous detective

    wow. this is actually pretty neat, and written by morris m. no less. well done for once. you have my official approval.

    • Supbro

      Mate, your approval literally means jackshit to Morris. He is beyond you

      • inconspicuous detective

        uh huh. i’m usually one of the more vocal people against him, so when i say it gets my approval, it means he did something right. you on the other hand…i’m not sure why you target me so much, but i suspect it has to do with an inferiority complex. it’s ok to aspire to be as great as i am, but you’ll never make it. don’t be so hard on yourself, k little guy?

        • Supbro

          I would pat you on the shoulder son, a few times, softly. My god your head is so far up your ass, no wonder your blurt out so much crap

          • inconspicuous detective

            right. look, i suspect you’re just a troll who gets their kicks messing with me. you’re free to continue to do this, and when i think you make a valid point or something in the future i’ll respond, but i’m not gonna keep up these back and forth games with you. you don’t have to like it, but you’re an idiot, i’m better than you, and that’s that. feel free to man up and change my mind any time, and you’ll get my approval on being just beneath what the average human amounts to. maybe.

          • Supbro

            “Im better than you”

            Case dismissed!

  • Hillyard

    Bad enough that the Govt is snooping in on our e-mails, now the planets are listening in.

  • Oh wow, I didn’t know about this. How embarrassing for Galileo then.

  • leaves and bells

    Why am I thinking about Van Gogh’s ears?