Loving astronomy, and becoming a glassblower, it was only a matter of time before we would try re-creating the planets and Sun in blown glass. It is an interesting challenge to figure out the right mix of colors, the density of the colors and how big or small the chips of color (frit) need to be so that they will mix and swirl together and look like whichever planet's atmosphere.
Some planets are easier than others. Venus is pretty homogenous in color, as is Neptune. Yes, there are some mild variations, but no wild storms, no oceans and land masses and certainly no rings! OK, yes, Neptune and Uranus have some thin rings, but for the purpose of re-creating the planet in various sculptural form, their rings are usually, but not always, omitted.
But the rings of Saturn.... You just can't omit those, or it just isn't Saturn! But creating those rings when you&'re working in blown glass is a definite challenge. Since we want to make our Saturn sculptures more scientifically accurate, we couldn't go with just the basic gestalt of rings that comes from trying to do them from molten glass in a big blowy furnace. The way we decided would be best to showcase the planetary storms and the patterns of the rings was to do the planet itself as a blown glass piece, but to do the rings from sheet glass, using carving and etching to detail the pattern of the rings, shape and relative size.
First we decide how big we need to make the planet section of Saturn. Currently, I'm building three of these sculptures. The planet size needs to be just under 4.5". So we go out and blown the glass pieces, measuring when they're blowing larger and larger until we get the piece to be the 4.5" wide. Since Saturn itself is a bit oblate (squished), the glass piece we blow will be 4.5" wide, but a touch less tall, instead of perfectly spherical.
Here is a photo of one of the blown glass pieces that will become a Saturn sculpture:
Then we work on the rings. First, we have to figure out how big to make the rings. We know from science that Saturn's rings are about 2 1/4 times the diameter of the planet, so if the planet is 4.5", then the rings will be 10" across! So we cut flat sheet glass in a 10 inch circle and then, using a ring saw (appropriate don't you think?), cut out the center 4.5" so that the blown planet that we made will juuuuust barely slide all the way into the hole.
We then use a vertical lathe and an etching tool, along with research data from the Cassini mission, to carve the ring plane as accurately as we can. We use the Cassini imagery so we know where to place the rings, the gaps, how far away from the planet to start the first ring, etc.
When the rings have been etched, and the planet and rings have been all cleaned up and polished, we go about setting the two together. Hopefully, if the ring carving has been done right, the rings will slide over the planet and just touch and hang at the planet's equator. I know I've done my job right if the rings will sit there by themselves, but any touching will cause them to fall through. I then brace the rings at the spot where they just touch and apply a type of glue that when it cures is actually stronger than the glass! After two weeks, the rings will be forever attached to the Saturn planet and the sculpture will be complete!
Now it just needs to sit on a lighted base to truly make it shine!
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