[AZ-Observing] Saturn: First View of New Observing Season

  • From: Tom Polakis <polakis@xxxxxxxx>
  • To: az-observing@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sat, 01 Sep 2001 15:03:03 -0700

This morning I had my first view of Saturn since it emerged from
conjunction into the morning sky.  This long period of not observing it had
to do with the summer monsoon and not being enough of a morning person to
rise at 3 a.m.

For me, the first sight of Saturn after conjunction is always like seeing
it for the first time.  It's still my favorite astronomical target, and
while I often don't see any new detail, I never tire of looking at it.  I
used a 10-inch f/5.6 operating at 270x and 400x.  Nearby was an ETX 60mm
refractor, which I couldn't contain myself from buying for $100 at Costco.

I looked for about a half hour with the 10-inch.  Since I last looked at
Saturn, the rings have opened even more.  When it was in the western sky
some months ago, the southern edge of the rings just barely cleared the
ball of the planet.  Now there is a thick arc of the far side of the rings
passing the globe, and the near side of the ring completely obscures the
northern hemisphere.  Cloud detail on Saturn is magnificent as always.  I
even think I was seeing very small, dark polar hood that is revealed by the
increased tilt of the planet, but confirming that will have to wait for a
night of better seeing.  Three small moons that I would learn are Tethys,
Dione, and Rhea were about 1' east of the planet, while Titan was nearly 3'
away, and showing a tiny disc.  I always prefer the appearance of Saturn
nearer to quadrature than opposition, as the shadow play is fascinating.
The shadow of the globe on the rings is as good as it gets.

After that, what could I expect from a 60mm f/6 refractor?  I lowered my
expectations enough to just hope to be able to resolve the rings.  Working
with only 360mm of focal length, a 9mm eyepiece and a 5x Barlow brings the
magnification up to 200x, which is far too high.  I found a 17mm with the
same Balow provides 105x, which is a practical upper limit for this scope.
Immersed in a purple haze was a softly glowing planet complete with rings.
Titan showed, but I couldn't see those inner moons.  I can't say the
telescope resolved Cassini's Division, but it at least showed that there's
an A and B ring.

Next I panned down to Jupiter, whose muddy detail isn't worth discussing.
If you ever want to convince yourself just how different the seeing
conditions are between an altitude of 60 degrees and 30 degrees, take a
look at these two planets at high magnification.  In another month and for
many months thereafter, Jupiter will also be well placed.


Tom Polakis
Tempe, AZ
Arizona Sky Pages
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  • » [AZ-Observing] Saturn: First View of New Observing Season