Entrepreneurs are making a lot of noise about space tourism these days. But most of the plans on the drawing boards call for up-and-down jaunts that would provide a brief view of Earth's curvature, and a few minutes of weightlessness. The ambitious plans call for a few days in Earth orbit.
Eventually, though, tourists may really get to enjoy the wonders of space by traveling across the solar system -- to the miles-high cliffs of Mercury, the ice flows on Europa, or the grand canyon of Mars.
But the most stunning view of all may be the rings of Saturn. As the Cassini spacecraft has shown us, there are thousands of individual rings, all made of small particles of ice and rock.
A fast pass along the outside of the razor-thin rings would be a stunning sight -- their arcs lining up above you one moment, then below you the next. And coming from Saturn's nightside to the dayside, with the Sun streaming through the rings, would present a stunning display of light and shadow. Rainbows might dance across the rings as sunlight passed through tiny particles of ice -- giving the space tourists a view they'd never forget.
Alas, that's a trip for future generations. For now, we have to appreciate Saturn from afar. Tonight, look for it a little above the Moon at nightfall, with the star Regulus a little above Saturn. The planet looks like a bright golden star. Small telescopes reveal Saturn's delicate but beautiful rings.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008
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