“Saturn” Be Dazzled, Not Frazzled

After having a brief discussion with friends about the thick and thin of Saturn’s ring system the other night, I decided to observe them and share what I saw and then post some hard facts about what’s ahead.

Think Thin

After Leo rose high and got his tail out of the weeds during the wee hours of November 9, I was able to easily find Saturn naked eye-all bright and shiny in the east.  The moon had sat, and the sky was comfortably dark.  Meaning it was just above freezing, so I did not have to bundle up like the Michelin Man and waddle around the yard like a big clumsy duck.

The night was cloudless and I saw a few meteors while just admiring the sky above.  The Milky Way was directly overhead, and looked like a faint mist of glitter had been scattered by migrating birds headed south.

A quick and dirty sketch of Saturn made by observing with an 8mm eyepiece through my 80mm (3-inch) refractor is below.  The rings are nearing edge on, so the rings appeared thick, like someone had drawn a line with a grease pencil through the planet.

saturn11_09_08b.jpg

When the rings are not edge on, it’s easy to see space between them and the orb of the planet plus gaps within the rings.  It was not easy to see any gaps but I was using a small scope and that bears weight on the lack of detail I saw.  The scope was also not at ambient temperature so tube currents were making Saturn boil.  Larger scopes at ambient temperature and higher magnification should coax more subtle features into view.

 

Shades of Gray

Ooh, look at those rings.  This is one of the best panoramas of the ring system I’ve seen. It reminds me of tapestry.  Rich shades of grey, charcoal and brown splashed with silver and black here and there are woven into a mesmerizing sight.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b1/Saturn%27s_rings_dark_side_mosaic.jpg

 

The Skinny on the Rings

Since it takes Saturn 29 years to go around the Sun-every 14-15 years we see the rings edge on.  The September ring plane crossing will be difficult to observe since Saturn will be very near the Sun.

Nov. 15-          Ring inclination is only -1.5 degrees from edge on- Look now!

Dec. 28-31      Inclination is -1 degrees.

Jan. 1-             Saturn starts retrograde loop and rings are inclined -1 degrees.  This is the thinnest they will appear while Saturn is high enough and not too close to the Sun for 15 years.  (The next edge on ring crossing is not great either, but we’ll deal with that in 15 years)

When the rings are edge on like they will be in January, try finding Saturn’s moon, Mimas. 

Feb. -               Ring inclination is -1.3 degrees

March 8-         Saturn at opposition, rings inclined -2.3 degrees

April-                Rings inclined -3.4 degrees

May-                Rings are inclined -4.1 degrees, the widest they will be until November.           After the 17th Saturn resumes eastward motion.

June 15-          Rings inclined -3.7 degrees

July 15-           Rings inclined -3.2 degrees; Saturn is magnitude 1.1 and rarely this faint.  

Aug. 29-          Rings inclined -1.9 degrees, but Saturn is very low in the evening sky.

Sept. 4-           Ring plane passage,(edge on from Earth)  but Saturn is prohibitively close to the Sun at only 11.4 degrees away.

Sept. 17-         Saturn in conjunction with the Sun

Oct. 15-           Saturn is a morning object.  Rings inclined +2.3 degrees.

Nov. 15-          Rings inclined +3.1 degrees

Dec. 31-          Rings inclined +4.3 degrees

** A negative sign indicates Saturn’s north pole is tipped away from us.   This is due to Earth’s orbital position –which will be our perspective until mid May. 

After May, the rings will tip downward until they are almost invisible when they are edge on September 4.  After September’s conjunction, the plus sign indicates Saturn’s north pole is tipped toward us. 

Eyes Up! Taurid Meteors for the weekend…..

If you live in a dark sky place, keep your eyes up for some meteors. Shooting, stars you say? Well yeah, you can call ’em that, but they are bits of comet dust that the Earth is passsing through. They are not stars at all. Imagine if they were though. That would be a once in a lifetime show!!!!

BTW- I’m still working on a better web home.  It will be bright and shiny soon I hope.  You’re invited to the open house when the doors are hung.

Keep your eye on Venus and Jupiter

Venus is really moving in on Jupiter.

Don’t believe it??? Just measure it for yourself with a 12 inch ruler every evening. I’ve been marking the distance since October 21st, when they were 21 inches apart. Now they are less than 10.

Inches translate to 2.44 degrees for me, but your mileage may vary.

Space Junk

US Space Command has reported that the EAS, (Early Ammonia Servicer) re entered somewhere over the Indian Ocean. No eye-witness reports so far.
It’s windy here, today, so the seeing is going to be less than ideal tonight. I’m going to make more images of 4 Vesta, and the geo sync satellite I’ve been chasing.
The Moon will be just below and left of Jupiter this evening. Take a look! It will make a nice photo!