'Citoyens, il est ŕ craindre que la révolution, comme Saturne, ne dévore successivement tous ses enfants et n’engendre enfin le despotisme avec les calamités qui l’accompagnent.'
Pierre Victurnien Vergniaud, 1793
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'Goin' back to Saturn where the rings all glow,
Rainbow, moonbeams and orange snow,
On Saturn, people live to be two hundred and five,
Goin' back to Saturn where the people smile,
Don't need cars 'cause we've learned to fly,
On Saturn, just to live to us is our natural high.'
Stevie Wonder, Saturn, 1976
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Every month, the U.S. is spending more on the Iraqi war than it took to reach Saturn and Titan. Mass murder is expensive, and good science is relatively cheap.
Caitlín R. Kiernan, 2005
A selection of my observations of the planet Saturn, an obscure and barely noticeable celestial animal, whose apparitions are so dull and uninspiring that they are scarcely worth observing at all. You may have heard fantastic stories about the so-called 'rings', but do not be misled; even when you can see the rings, they're rubbish, a complete waste of time. I don't know why anyone bothers with this pathetic little planet at all, it's enough to put anyone off astronomy for life. What a bore.
No, not really. Apart from Earth, Saturn is the great spectacle of the Solar System, and if you only have the opportunity to see him once in your life, you must take it. For thousands of years Saturn, twice as far from the Sun as Jupiter and nine-and-a-half times as wide as the Earth, was considered to be the outermost limit of the Universe before the crystal sphere holding up the fixed stars, and as such was named after the Roman god of Time, identified with the Greek god Cronus. This remote and enormous world with its awe-inspiring colossal ring system gives us clues as to the origins of all stellar and planetary systems.
Observation #207, 2011.IV.9
This was the first CCD image I took with my new 6" refractor, and despite mist and urban light pollution, this is the best image of Saturn I have yet taken. What with the Earth having just overtaken Saturn on her inside orbit, Saturn was only about 800 million miles away and the planetary disc subtended an angle of all of 19 arcseconds. Lots of detail is visible on the disc and some on the rings too. South is top.
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Observation #195, 2010.XII.6
Took the opportunity to take my first CCD image of Saturn with the rings opening out, although the planet was low in murky urban skies with terrible seeing. South is top.
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Observation #164, 2010.IV.4
The best image of Saturn I have yet obtained with the CCD webcam, with a 4" object glass and 3× Barlow Lens. Quite a surprising amount of detail is visible here, approaching what might be seen at the eyepiece, although the view is slightly foggy, and of course the famous rings are nearly edge-on. The polar regions are obviously darker, and there is a lighter break between the (bottom) north polar region and the still dark north temperate zone above. Working upwards there is an obvious bright cloud band just north of the equator, and above that the rings cross the disc.
In this highly over-exposed image of Saturn, the giant moon Titan is plainly visible as an out-of-focus blob well to the left of the planet. At 3,200 miles in diameter, Titan is one-and-a-half times the diameter of Earth's Moon, but what with the Saturnian system being 793,000,000 miles distant, at the eyepiece Titan appears as a tiny speck of light less than one arcsecond in diameter. So I was fairly pleased with myself to have imaged him for the first time from my urban back yard, with Saturn only 30° above the southeastern horizon directly over Coventry city centre 200 yards away, using only a 4" spotting scope, a slightly modified Philips webcam, and a second-hand laptop held together with solder, epoxy resin, and gaffer tape. This is astronomy tied together with string.
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Observation #132, 2009.XII.4
A band of cloud is faintly visible across the northern (lower) hemisphere in this image. The Earth has crossed the plane of Saturn's rings for the last time until the year 2025 and the rings are beginning to open out, but will close again almost completely by early summer.
This chart shows the relative positions of the Earth and Saturn at the time of this observation. Saturn was 908,600,000 miles from the Earth at this time, and the planetary disc subtended 17 arcseconds.
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Observation #111, 2009.V.19
Another image of Saturn, taken by CCD webcam with an 8" specular and 2× Barlow Lens. South is top.
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Observation #71, 2008.XII.7
Saturn with the rings almost edge-on. My CCD footage is disappointing, but I'm still new to astrophotography and am having to observe from an urban location. Even with the rings edge-on, which is the best time to observe the fainter moons as they are not put into the shade by glare from the rings, there was no sign of the moons, not even Titan who is obvious and should have been visible just to the (terrestrial) west of the (Saturnian) eastern ring tip. This must be down to urban atmospheric conditions. Even so, even under perfect conditions I don't believe that the CCD can even remotely compare to the human eye for capturing detail through a telescope.
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Observation #67, 2008.XI.25
No moons visible but for Titan, the other visible moons were close in to Saturn's bright disc and obscured by it, apart from Iapetus who was well to the east and presenting his dark side.
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Observation #64, 2008.XI.19
With Titan well to the west of Saturn, made my first sighting of Rhea about one third of the way in towards Saturn, appearing as a faint speck of light which just about stood up to direct scrutiny. Also made my first sighting of Iapetus, in his inclined orbit slightly northwest of Titan. This was a more difficult world to spot, and I found that I could only see him by using averted vision; looking directly at him he was more or less entirely invisible. This world is known to have a highly reflective surface on one side (of ice) and another side which is entirely black (from material that has welled up from underneath the ice). The bright side is always presented to the Earth when Iapetus is west of Saturn.
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Observation #50, 2008.IV.12-13
The best image of Saturn I was able to obtain with the rings open, in the days when I used to conduct astrophotography by holding up my mobile phone camera to the eyepiece of my telescope. I also took the following sketch:
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Observation #49, 2008.III.14
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Observation #45, 2008.II.13
Angled telescope at Saturn, low in the west. At only 772 million miles distant and nearing opposition, Saturn was glorious in clear moments, at which times some detail was visible. Ring shadow on the planet was far less in evidence than in my last observation in early December, just a thin black line, this is because the Earth is approaching the orbital plane of Saturn's rings, and the rings are therefore flattening out as seen from Earth. The planet's shadow on the ring behind it to the east was also less pronounced than before, as Saturn is facing the Sun almost directly behind the Earth. The south pole was covered with a noticeable dark cap which extended some way down the globe. I imagined that normally the dark polar region is quite small, almost flat like a milk check; possibly the huge porridge bowl I saw covering the top fifth of the planet was split into belts, or had light streaks in it lower down. Above the ring system (to the south of it) was an obvious belt, thicker towards the west (right) of the disc. Below the ring system the globe appeared slightly in shadow but it was difficult to discern any features. I think that my observing skills have improved; Saturn began almost to look like Jupiter for detail, which I had been practising picking out cloud belts on back in August last year. Certainly image quality has not improved - yet; the mobile phone footage I took of Saturn at 160× magnification was not as clear as that I took at the beginning of the month, even though the image this morning was good at 160×, almost crystal clear at times. At 400× image was invisible to the mobile phone, foggy with the globe almost featureless, but the outline of the globe and ring system, and Titan to the east of the planet, were all still obvious. Unable to spot any other moons of the Saturnian system. Apparently, the glare from the rings eclipses smaller satellites, many of which were discovered when the rings were edge on and practically invisible. Saturn's small moons will be something to look for when the rings are edge on at the end of this year.
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Observation #7, 2007.I.27
The image of the planet was much brighter and clearer than last time I observed it, the clearest image being obtained at 160× magnification (10mm eyepiece with 2× Barlow lens). Rings were beautiful, clearly-defined, although the main Cassini division was only barely visible at the most elongated sections of the rings, either side of the globe. Some detail was visible on the planet: a slight shadow towards the southeast, possibly spreading onto the ring behind. There was a barely perceptible dark cap over the south pole, and definite bands of light and dark below the south pole in the southern hemisphere. A spectacular view indeed. I also observed a faint but definite point of light to the southeast of the planet which could only be the giant moon Titan, my first sighting of this body. No other moons were obviously visible.
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Observation #3, 2006.VI.1
2237 (BST) [At this stage I did not realize that in timing astronomical observations, no matter where in the world or indeed the universe you are observing from, the convention is to quote all times in Universal Time (UT), and not in local time. UT is the same as GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) which is one hour behind the local British Summer Time (BST) which I am using here.]
At ×40 magnification I was able to find a bright point of light that could only be Saturn. I did not expect to see the rings and was not too disappointed, and hoped to find them at ×80 with the 10mm eyepiece. But then I focused a little and realized that Saturn had not resolved as a point of light but as a tiny image, with discernible rings! This was altogether too much. I changed the eyepiece for the 10mm and saw a perfectly formed little image of the ringed planet, sometimes swimming slightly in and out of focus.
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