Not at all saturnine about Saturn

Returning home from Lablit this evening at about 11 pm I scanned the clear sky in the south-east and noticed a small bright speck to the left of and slightly higher than the glowing moon. A quick perusal of Starmap on the iPhone told me that this was likely to be Saturn.

At last!

I dashed into the house, had a quick comfort-break (at the Americans so delicately put it), grabbed my telescope and set up shop on our front pathway. The viewing conditions were less than ideal; with the brightness of a near-full moon and the street lights to contend with, I had a little trouble finding the speck. But by blocking the moon with my hand I managed to steer the telescope into position and was immediately rewarded with my first sighting of Saturn:

Saturn and little Titan
Saturn and (I think) little Titan

I know it’s not new. I knew exactly what to expect. Except that I didn’t really. Not really. I was still delighted with the ‘find’ – the pale disk with the handles. I stood there for several minutes, crouched over the telecsope, grinning like a loon. I just could not help but smile.

I diverted myself briefly to have a look at the lunar surface in all its pitted glory but even that couldn’t keep me from Saturn. So I went back to the planet and smiled some more.

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14 Responses to Not at all saturnine about Saturn

  1. Brian Derby says:

    Great image Stephen. I think the blob could Titan, here is the detail from Manchester Astronomical Society’s notes on it this month: _Many of Saturn’s moons can also be seen in the telescope. The largest and brightest is Titan, which will be close to the north of the planet around February 3rd and 19th, 3 arc-minutes east of the planet around the 7th and 23rd, close to the south of it around the 11th and 27th, and 3 arc-minutes west of it around the 15th._ It looks as though the apparent orbital period is 16 days so it should be apparently S.W. of the planet
    When I was a teenager I had a 4″ reflector telescope – sadly long gone but I was never ever able to master it and the star maps to get a decent view of a planet. It may also have been a combination of bright street lights and the tall trees in a neighbour’s garden. However, astronomy was one of the things that kept my interest in science going.
    I finally saw saturn through a telescope when I was at a conference in Baltimore and walking along the harbour I cam across someone who had set up a telescope and had it aimeed at Saturn. It is instantly regognizable, although my memory of that occasion is mussied by knowledge of what it looks like from Pioneer/Voyager and Cassini space craft images. Mt memory from that occasion at least 5 years ago(distorted as admitted) was of a slightly more oblique view bur with ring like features evident.

  2. Stephen Curry says:

    Thanks Brian. The view I saw is clearly with the rings ‘edge-on’, which is different from the initial sketches from Galileo’s drawings, which I recalled showing a pair of curved handles on the planet. But a little digging has shown me that (of course) the planet’s “appearance will change”: depending on its position relative to the earth.
    Which is great news. It means there are other views to be ‘discovered’!

  3. Heather Etchevers says:

    Fantastic photo! Next thing we know, you’ll be waging war on Mars.

  4. Stephen Curry says:

    Thanks Heather, but it’s _not_ a photo. My equipment isn’t quite up to capturing planets (not yet). It’s a _hand-drawn_ sketch of my observations.

  5. Richard P. Grant says:

    It’s not? I want my money back!

  6. Matt Brown says:

    This must be so exciting. What chance of a Nature Network astronomical evening _chez_ Curry some time?

  7. Stephen Curry says:

    No problem Richard; next time I see you, I will give you lots of pounds! Unless you buy me a beer.
    That’s great idea Matt (weather permitting, of course!) – but we’re going to have to give the builders time to finish off our patio and clear off. Nothing happening in the past few week (bad weather, other jobs). It’s a bit of a building site at the moment!

  8. Heather Etchevers says:

    (heh – here I was thinking it looked rather like ball-point pen, and I even had a brief wonder as to why it was blue…)
    You’d wonder if I were a _real_ scientist. Where’s that skepticism for which we are supposedly so renowned?

  9. Stephen Curry says:

    Actually Heather, now that I think of it, I have recently come into possession of some _prime_ real estate on Saturn that I could let you have for a *very* reasonable price! It’d be a steal! 😉

  10. Richard P. Grant says:

    I think Stephen should get a shot at hosting the last comment…

  11. Joy K says:

    Your description of “grinning like a loon” reminded me of the first time I aimed a pair of binoculars at Orion and saw the dim glow of the nebula lurking within. I knew it was there, and I’d seen beautiful images of it, but that faint smudge of light that I was seeing with my own eyes reduced me to a grinning idiot.

  12. Stephen Curry says:

    Thanks for commenting Joy – good to know I am not alone in my looniness!

  13. Åsa Karlström says:

    haha, I’m with you Heather “wow, cool… huh, blue… looks a bit like pen ink…nahh”. And then I thought, is it an inverted photo?
    Sounds fun though Stephen! Alas, I have no idea if it Titan or something else. Looks posetively like a _thing_ in the sky 😉

  14. Stephen Curry says:

    Unfortunately I haven’t had much chance to check again to see if the ‘moon’ has moved. Ever hopeful of a clear sky but last night was a no-go.

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