October 17, 2010 #088 - Spokes on Saturn's Rings in 1888


As I was reading a Google scan of the February, 1888 - "The Journal of the Liverpool Astronomical Society", I was surprised when I looked at Plate XII (Figure 14 & 19). It is a drawing by a Society member, Thomas Gwyn Elger, of Saturn's Rings. What was striking about his drawings was an apparent record of "spokes" on the Rings. If memory serves me, I have read that these ghost like markings were discovered during the Voyager Mission as it scanned Saturn at the end of the 20th. century and more recently by the Cassini Mission. It appears to me that Mr. Elger may have got a jump on us by about a hundred years!

With a little Wiki research I found that Mr. Elger was a lunar mapper who had an observatory with an 8.5 inch refractor in Bedford, England. He was the first director of the Lunar Section of the British Astronomical Association and was a member of several other Astronomical Societies. His 1895 book - "The Moon: A Full description and Map of its Principal Physical Features" is highly regarded due to it's maps. (Available on Google Books) His sketches from 1884 to 1896 are now in the possession of the BAA. He even has a crater on the moon named in his honor.

These drawings and his notes are included for you to take a look at.

Clear Sky - Rich


e.d. said...

That's very interesting! Actually, pre-Voyagers observations of spokes are reported by some visual observers: I know O'Meara in 1976, and Barnard in 1889 (although somehow debated). But Elger in 1888 should even predate Barnard by some months. Did you find by chance other similar observations of spokes while searching around? Regards

Rich said...

Thanks for the info e.d. Sorry it took so long to get back to you. I have been taking care of some family problems for several months and hope to return to a normal retirement soon. I have not found any earlier observation of Saturn's spokes but that would be a fun project to research. I will do some searching in the old astronomy journals and post something this fall. Rich