The Changing Views of Saturn

As we move toward Spring, Saturn’s placement high in the sky comes earlier each night. This makes it a nice target for camera and telescope as the night temperatures become easier to endure.

A striking feature of Saturn this season is the near edge-on view of the rings. From our line of site, we get a different view than we have in years past when much more of the ring facing was visible. In fact, if you had the opportunity to view Saturn 7 years ago , you were treated to the maximum face-on view!

Here is a recent photo of Saturn taken this month (March 2009). Note how the black sky between the planet and the rings is barely visible. Even more difficult to detect is the Cassini Division- the major gap in the ring system.

Saturn in March 2009. Credit: Ray Shore
Saturn in March 2009. Credit: Ray Shore

 

Long Term Project for Astro-Imagers

Recording Saturn’s changes over time makes for an interesting project in Astrophotography!  The image below depicts the changes from January of 2004 to March of 2009. Note how the Cassini Division becomes increasingly difficult to see from year to year then dissapears in the last image.  Click on the image for larger view.

The changing views of Saturn
The Changing Views of Saturn

It will take about 7 years to capture the ring tilt from one extreme to the other (i.e., edge-on to face-on).  Double that to get the complete cycle: edge-on to edge-on. This is a good season to start your project because the rings are nearly as edge-on as they can get. In fact, they will be perfectly edge-on in September of 2009. Of course, you won’t be able to see Saturn at all by this time because it will be too close to the sun!

So now is the time to get started. Go talk to your boss and tell her that you need that new Celestron NexImage NOW before you miss a great starting point!

Resources

Webcam Astrophotography Tutorial for Planets

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