By Tim Lambert

Observation of Jupiter

Jupiter is named after a Roman god. It has been known since ancient times but before the invention of the telescope nothing could be seen on its surface. Saturn is also named after a Roman god and has also been known since ancient times.

In 1610 Galileo discovered 4 small moons orbiting the planet Jupiter with his telescope. At the time these were astonishing discoveries. Until then nobody knew that any of the other planets, apart from Earth, had moons. The moons were named Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. In 1892 another moon was discovered around Jupiter, Amalthea. In the 20th century many more moons were discovered around Jupiter. Today Jupiter is known to have 63 moons. In 1979 rings were discovered around Jupiter.

Observation of Saturn

Galileo also looked at Saturn through his telescope. He could see bulges on the sides of Saturn but his primitive telescope did not allow him to see they were rings around the planet. In 1655 Christiaan Huygens proposed there were a solid ring around Saturn and in 1656 he discovered Saturn's moon Titan. In 1675 Jean-Dominique Cassini discovered a gap in the rings around Saturn. Cassini also discovered four more moons around Saturn, Rhea and Iapetus in 1671 and Tethys and Dione in 1684.

In 1789 William Herschel found 2 more moons around Saturn, Mimas and Enceladus. Another moon was discovered around Saturn, Hyperion. Phoebe, another moon of Saturn was discovered in 1899. Since then many more moons have been discovered around Saturn. Today Saturn has 62 known moons.

In December 1973 Pioneer 10 flew past Jupiter. Pioneer 11 reached Jupiter in December 1974 and it reached Saturn in September 1979. Voyager 1 reached Saturn in 1980. In 1981 Voyager 2 flew past Saturn.

In 1995 Galileo went into orbit around Jupiter. It sent a probe that descended through Jupiter's atmosphere by parachute and sent back valuable information.

In 2000 the Cassini-Huygens probe flew past Jupiter and in 2004 it reached Saturn. A probe landed on Titan the moon of Saturn. The Juno spacecraft reached Jupiter in 2016.

Jupiter and Saturn in Science Fiction

Relatively few science fiction stories have been written about Jupiter or Saturn. However in 1942 Isaac Asimov wrote a story called Victory Unintentional in which 3 robots land on the surface of Jupiter and meet the inhabitants. In 1967 Philip K Dick wrote a book called the Ganymede Takeover in which intelligent worms from one of the moons of Jupiter conquer the Earth.

The film called Saturn 3 made in 1980 was set on a space station orbiting Saturn. The film starred Farrah Fawcett, Kirk Douglas and Harvey Keitel. Many science fiction stories have been set on Titan the largest moon of Saturn.

A brief history of Space Exploration

A brief history of Mars

A brief history of the planet Mercury

A brief history of Venus

A brief history of Uranus, Neptune and Pluto

A brief history of Science


Last revised 2016