Saturn held few attractions for the ancients, who knew it as the slowest moving planet in the sky. Our name for the planet conies from Roman mythology, but the Greeks called it Kronos after Zeus's father, the overthrown ruler of the universe and a weary old man. Earlier still, Mesopotamian astronomers had called it "the old sheep" or even "the eldest old sheep."
The modern era for Saturn began in 1610, when Galileo Galilei turned his telescope on the planet. He thought it was a triple-bodied object. Other observers reported that it had "handles" or "ears," and fierce debate ensued.
Finally, in 1659, Christiaan Huygens (who discovered Titan, Saturn's largest satellite) announced that Saturn was circled by a broad, flat ring inclined to the ecliptic. This explained why the rings seem to disappear at about 15-year intervals. Twice each Saturnian year, Earth passes through the plane of the rings and they become too thin to be seen. The last such passage occurred in 1995-96, and the next will take place in 2009.