Saturn at Opposition

This morning, at 07:44HST, the planet Saturn will pass through opposition. Earth will pass between the outer planet and the Sun. During this time Saturn rises at sunset, transits at midnight and sets at dawn. The planet is perfectly placed for observation, high in the sky, for much of the night. You can find Saturn in Virgo, five degrees from the bright star Spica.

For a few days before and after opposition the planet and it’s rings will be a bit brighter, an effect called, appropriately enough, the opposition effect. This is because we are directly in line with the Sun and planet, minimizing any shadows on the planet and in the rings.

When the Seeing is Bad

Last week I shot a little video of Mars and Saturn in an attempt to get some nice imagery of these planets. Mars is approaching opposition and Saturn is well placed in the sky for observation. It appeared at first as if the seeing was pretty good, but reviewing the video shows that there were issues.

The results? No so good actually. The Mars shot shows no detail beyond the polar cap, the Saturn shot is marginally better, but still nothing I am happy with. The imagery was taken with the Canon 60D in crop movie mode, and the C11 telescope operating at f/10. I spent some time tweaking the collimation, that looked looked fairly good. The video? The resulting material is not so good, I suspect the main cause of the poor results was seeing, some variant of high frequency distortion blurring the fine details.

There may also be some issues with the new version of Registax. Version 6 has some major differences in how it operates, not sure if I am doing everything right. The program may have some bugs as well, I crashed it several times while attempting to process the imagery.

Saturn, C11 and Canon 60D, best 800 of 1200 frames processes in registax

Saturnine Storm

Saturn Storm
The huge storm churning through the atmosphere in Saturn's northern hemisphere overtakes itself as it encircles the planet in this true-color view from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Cassini Press Release

This picture, captured on Feb. 25, 2011, was taken about 12 weeks after the storm began, and the clouds by this time had formed a tail that wrapped around the planet. Some of the clouds moved south and got caught up in a current that flows to the east (to the right) relative to the storm head. This tail, which appears as slightly blue clouds south and west (left) of the storm head, can be seen encountering the storm head in this view.

Continue reading “Saturnine Storm”

Postcard from the Universe – Hyperion

One of my favorite moons in the solar system has to be Hyperion. This small icy body is one of those truly weird places.

An oblong shape roughly 360 x 200km (220 x 120miles) the moon is composed of primarily water ice with a small amount of rock in the mix. The moon is thought to be highly porous, a loosely held together rubble pile perhaps. This is indicated by the odd appearance of the many impact craters, looking as if the impacting body is absorbed as much as vaporized. The material of the crater walls then slumping back into the void.

The Saturnian moon Hyperion, image acquired by the Cassini Spacecraft 16Sep2011, credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Titan before Rings

A world shrouded in hydrocarbon smog, where there are rivers and lakes collecting methane rain. Despite numerous flybys of the Cassini spacecraft and landing of Huygens probe on the surface, Titan remains a very mysterious world. A thick atmosphere and exotic chemistries create conditions that might even harbor some form of life.

Taken from this angle, the view looks toward the side of Titan that always faces away from Saturn. Keep in mind that Titan is 5,150 kilometers (3,200 miles across), much smaller than the Earth, but quite a bit larger than our Moon. The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Aug. 9, 2011 using a spectral filter sensitive to wavelengths of near-infrared light centered at 938 nanometers. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 1.4 million kilometers (870,000 miles) from Titan and at a Sun-Titan-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 35 degrees. Image scale is 8 kilometers (5 miles) per pixel.

Titan before Rings
Saturn’s large moon, Titan, with edge-on rings seen behind, image taken 9Aug2011, acquired by the Cassini narrow angle camera and a 938nm infrared filter, credit NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute