Sunday, November 27, 2005

20051125 - Riveting Saturn

Session Name: 20051125.1906

Saturn holds a special meaning for me. It is the hour hand counting the time that I began an active observing program. Prior to the fall of 2003, I dabbled with astronomy, the Tele Vue Ranger spending more time in the closet than outside. Some can appreciate this. Then returning from a trip to Japan in the early fall of 2003, I began to go to the park more often. By late fall, I purchased a Takahashi FS102 refractor and it was apparent that I was going out regularly on clear nights. Saturn would become the beat that I count my time exploring the skies.

On 20031014.0030, Saturn was J2000 RA: 6h56m26.82s DE:+22°03'56.5"
On 20051126.0030, Saturn is J2000 RA: 8h55m18.11s DE:+17°55'35.7"

In Starry Night v4.5, a check of the angular separation, reveals a distance of 28° 26'. Almost 30°, that is one twelfth of a full circuit of a 29.6 year sidereal period, the conventional length of a zodiacal sign, is the period of time that I have been observing. When I recently spoke with Andy, the amateur astronomer from Ohio, one afternoon at the Rock, he spoke of how he has seen the rings tilt up and down and up and down, and Jupiter was already during circuits around the zodiac - he has been at it for some time. I want to say 50 years or so from a statement that he made talking about donating a 6" reflector telescope to a local high school, Xavier, and wondering if they still have it.

When first observing Saturn it was between the knees of the twins, and M35 was little more than 10° short hop to the north. On 20040127, I noted that Saturn and NGC2420 were in the same fov, the open cluster on Titan's side. Comet Machholz was seen near the Steeple of Perseus. A few months later, I noted on 20050219, that Saturn was 1° east of Eskimo Nebula, NGC2392; Comet Machholz was a very faint binocular object in Camelopardalis. Recently Saturn has passed the Beehive Cluster, M44, still visible in the same fov of 7x50 binoculars. On a very wet, dew-ridden landscape at Custer Institute in Long Island, Charlie, Kin and I saw Saturn 1° south of M44 in a 2.2° fov. It was the first time, I definitively saw the North Polar Cap poking out from beneath the rings. C/2004 Q2, Comet Machholz now faded into memory, observations left in my notebook, recalling that it was responsible for the move from Turtle Pond Observatory on the south side of the Great Lawn to where we now regularly observe.

So here we are today and Saturn continues to impress. I feel that I have exhausted words to describe seeing it, fail to express its magnificence. Anyone who has seen Saturn in his glory will rightly know what I describe.

At TotL, Saturn needs to rise above 30° altitude to comfortably clear the trees to our east, moving the gear most west provides a lower horizon but the dull, blemished sky doesn't help matters. And this evening, after having packed the scopes up, Saturn did climb as the sky cleared. Around 12:30 with curfew approaching, the Teleport was unpacked, collimated quickly, and pointed on Saturn. A remarkable, welcomed sight.

The views were crisp up to 250x. The following sketch, transcribed from notes, was made at eyepieces producing 140x and 250x. It is a snapshot from a larger notebook, not having a scanner. The color on the disk is a bit overdone with yellow as the disk really appeared a creamy white with a faint peach-colored stripe running across the disk south of its equator. South is up and east is to the left in this drawing. Among the polar cap, the traversing stripe, and the shadow of the planet on the rings, the shape of the planet really stands out. 5 moons were noted, Iapetus escaped detection because we didn't know where to look for it, but well within reach of the TP10's capabilities.

Looking forward to more sights as the winter skies allow Cancer to rise at more reasonable times for us. While I think that time passes quickly, I can simply slow down, remembering that Saturn slumbers along his annual orbit at pace considerably slower than ours, and my hour hand has justed barely started in its path across the zodiacal clockface seen in the night sky.