Saturn: Lord of the Rings

The Universe
Season 1
14 episodes
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DVD & Blu-ray
"The Universe" episode no. 8 (season 1)
  • written, produced, and directed by Amy Huggins & Andrew Nock
  • edited by Takayuki Fujiwara

  • narrated by Erik Thompson
  • Original Music by Eric Amdahl
  • Flight 33 Productions, (c) 2007 A & E TV Networks
  • 1 documentary @ 44 minutes

Data Capsule Review

by Martin Izsak

Here, a solid and definitive episode is devoted to the planet Saturn. Its common features are introduced, and many details unique to this particular documentary are presented.

The planet itself as a gas giant is discussed first - and in comparing its mass and density with Jupiter, Saturn really is a much more lightweight puff-ball. The many, many layers of thick atmosphere lead to very complex weather patterns, and the episode goes on to detail the planet's active southern storm alley, its proper south polar cyclone, and the bizarre hexagonal feature on its north pole that has been observed for twenty years so far.

The episode then celebrates Saturn's rings, including their composition and other properties. Many unanswered questions and unproven theories about the ring's creation lead to the question of how recently they formed, and how permanent they are. Will Saturn eventually lose its rings, and if so, how and when? This episode indulges in fascinating educated speculations.

Neil deGrasse Tyson:
"What's interesting now that we're going to these planets is that we're learning that, in some ways, the moons are where the action is."

Arguably the episode is even more interesting when the focus shifts to Saturn's moons. The largest moon Titan is up first, and the episode does a solid job of covering the basics about its hydrocarbon-rich atmosphere and composition. Discoveries made by Cassini's Huygens probe as it descended to the surface of Titan on January 14, 2005, are presented excellently here.... "Would it find a liquid or solid surface?" scientists wondered. The answer - something with a consistency like pudding!

Up next is the series' favourite moon of all time: Enceladus, and we get the definitive telling of how its ice geysers were first discovered. Excellent.

The last half-segment is an excellent bit that possibly should have come near the beginning of the episode - a celebration of the Cassini mission to send an automated probe to Saturn in 2005, which has steadily provided us with a wealth of new data about the planet and its rings and moons ever since. Members of the Cassini team such as Carolyn Porco and Andrew Ingersoll have extensive interviews in this episode, giving us as first-hand a window into this information as we are likely to get, elevating this episode above many other future ones on this subject.

This episode is definitely a highlight of the first season, and a great episode for "The Universe" as a whole.

Chapter List:

  1. Introduction
  2. The Gas Giant
  3. The Mysterious Rings
  4. Exploring Titan
  5. Geysers on Enceladus
  6. Search for Life

For further fun:

The exploitation of Titan's hydro-carbon riches for fuel can be seen in the moon's depiction in the fictional TV serial "The Invisible Enemy".

Participants include:

Neil deGrasse Tyson

American Museum of Natural History

Laura Danly

Curator of the
Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles

Dr. Carolyn Porco

Planetary Scientist
Cassini Imaging Team

Andrew Ingersoll

Cassini Imaging Team

Dr. Margaret Tolbert

University of Colorado

simulates the atmosphere of Titan in her lab, adds sunlight at "Saturn" levels, and produces organic compounds!

Robert Roy Britt

Kevin Baines

NASA / Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Bonnie Buratti

NASA / Jet Propulsion Laboratories

John Spencer

Southwest Research Institute

Jay M. Pasachoff

Williams College

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The Universe
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14 episodes



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Read the data capsule review for another episode: "The Outer Planets"

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