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KIDS SPACE - Fun Facts - A Little History

Illustration of Cassini and Huygens with history books.
Historical Fun Facts
My buddy Huygens here is actually a probe. When the time is right, we separated and Huygens dropped down to explore Titan, Saturn's largest moon. My friend sent back lots of valuable information about Titan to scientists on Earth. If you're wondering how Huygens (pronounced HOY ginz) and I got our names, let's start with a little history:

Animation of Galileo
Hold your mouse over the drawing
above to see Galileo animated.
In the early 1600s the astronomer Galileo studied Saturn through his homemade telescope. Around 1610, he noticed something odd about the planet's shape. It appeared to Galileo that Saturn was not one planet, but three. He decided that Saturn must have two large moons, one on each side, that didn't orbit, but somehow just stayed stuck to the planet's sides.

A few years later, Galileo couldn't see anything around Saturn.

Animation of Huygens
Hold your mouse over the drawing
above to see Christaan Huygens animated.
Later, a Dutch astronomer named Christaan Huygens made better telescopes than the ones Galileo had. Using them, he figured out that Saturn must have a detached, wide, thin ring. Huygens drew diagrams showing how Saturn could change its appearance because of the rings, and how the rings could seem to disappear every few years.

Huygens also discovered Saturn's largest moon, Titan, the one we are going to explore. That's why my partner is named Huygens.

Animation of Cassini
   Hold your mouse over the drawing
above to see Giovanni Cassini animated.

Also studying Saturn was the Italian-French astronomer Giovanni Cassini, who is also known as Jean Dominique Cassini. He watched the planet so much that he noticed a space inside the rings. He discovered there were actually two main rings. This gap between them is still called the "Cassini Division."

Cassini also guessed that the rings were actually made up of rocks, or "moonlets" too small to be seen individually. And he was right. We now know that there are many rings, all composed of tiny particles and even some small moons. So I was named Cassini in honor of the astronomer.

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