A Darker View

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There will be a close approach of the Moon and Saturn tonight and tomorrow. At sunset on the 9th the pair will be separated by less than 7° and found well up in the eastern sky. As the night progresses the pair will slowly close the gap. As the pair sets around 03:30 the morning of the 10th, the separation will have been reduced to about 4°. As the two rise on the evening of the 10th they will have passed and the separation will be increasing. At sunset the pair will be 7° apart.

Viewers on the other side of our planet will be able to observe the closest approach, much less than a degree for many, an occultation if you happen to be in the right place. Sky watchers in Capetown, South Africa will see the planet disappear behind the limb of the Moon for about an hour around 19:11UT.

Tonight the planet Saturn will be quite close to the Moon. The pair will rise about 18:20 HST and be well up in the east in the late evening. Look for 0.1 magnitude object just north of the Moon, there are no nearby stars bright enough to confuse for the planet. The Moon is full at 09:16HST tomorrow, just short of full for tonight’s pairing.

Observers in the islands will see the Moon pass less than 1° south of the planet during the early morning hours of the 14th. Observers in the southern hemisphere will be able to view an occultation if at the correct latitude, check a planetarium program for the view from your location.

Today the planet Saturn will pass through opposition, directly opposite the Sun in our sky.

Saturn 22Apr2010

Saturn with Titan above

Saturn orbits the Sun once every 29.45 years. As the ringed planet continues on its way the Earth swings around much faster on our inside track. As a result we lap Saturn once every 378.1 days, passing between the planet and the Sun. During opposition Saturn will be well placed for observation all night long, rising at sunset, transiting at midnight, and setting at sunrise.

During opposition the planet and rings will be slightly brighter than normal, an effect known as the opposition effect. The effect is most notable in the rings where the apparent brightness can increase by 30%. The effect is a combination of two factors, shadow hiding and the retro-reflective properties of the ring particles.

Tomorrow morning, Feb 21st, the Moon will be in close attendance with Saturn, separated by a little under 4°. The two will be high in southern the sky before dawn, a last quarter Moon will be 61% illuminated. Saturn can be seen as a 0.5 magnitude object just East of the Moon and west of the head of Scorpio. The following morning, Feb 22nd, the Moon will have moved to the other side of the ringed planet with a separation of just over 8°.

Viewers on the other side of the world will be able to see a very close pairing of the two, less than half a degree apart or even in occultaion depending on location. Close approach will be about 14:00 HST on the 21st. You could make an attempt to view the pair in the daytime sky, Saturn is bright enough to be seen next to the Moon in a modest telescope or even a good pair of binoculars. Unfortunately the Moon sets around 11:00, a few hours before close approach here in the islands.

Not quite the dramatic comet in the dawn shot I was hoping for. The comet is just barely able to compete with the dawn glow. Still, a beautiful morning.

Waiting to see what fate holds in store for this dirty snowball as it travels through the hell of the solar corona. I will try another photo session after perihelion.

ISON in the Dawn

Comet C/2012 S1 ISON, Mercury and Saturn in the dawn over Hilo

Today at 01:29HST Saturn will pass through superior conjunction with the Sun. The planet will reappear in the dawn sky later in the month.

On the 23rd and 24th Saturn will be quite near the brightening comet C/2012 S1 ISON and the planet Mercury, creating an odd planet and comet conjunction. The trio will have about 5° separation. Even more odd, the comet 2p/Enke will be inside the triangle formed by the trio, probably at 7th magnitude.

A spectacular image of Saturn from above. Even better, the image was assembled by an amateur astronomer, Gordan Ugarkovic, working with Cassini imagery taken on October 10th. Click on the image to zoom in, then zoom in some more! You can see exquisite data in the polar cloud-tops and in the rings. Keep an eye out for the shepherd moons at the edges of the various rings…

Saturn from Above

This portrait looking down on Saturn and its rings was created from images obtained by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on Oct. 10, 2013. It was made by amateur image processor and Cassini fan Gordan Ugarkovic. This image has not been geometrically corrected for shifts in the spacecraft perspective and still has some camera artifacts.The mosaic was created from 12 image footprints with red, blue and green filters from Cassini’s imaging science subsystem. Ugarkovic used full color sets for 11 of the footprints and red and blue images for one footprint. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/G. Ugarkovic

Tonight will see a bright Moon just a few degrees from Saturn in the constellation Virgo. The Moon will be nearing full, about 94% illuminated and 4° south of Saturn.

Today the planet Saturn will pass through opposition, directly opposite the Sun in our sky. The planet will be well placed for observation all night long, rising at sunset, transiting at midnight, and setting at sunrise.

During opposition the planet and rings will be slightly brighter than normal, an effect known as the opposition effect. The effect is most notable in the rings where the apparent brightness can increase by 30%. The effect is a combination of two factors, shadow hiding and the retro-reflective properties of the ring particles.

Join us this Sunday for a live broadcast from Keck 2 remote observing! Here at Keck we will be participating in a campaign to observe Saturn’s auroras. Join JPL scientist Dr. Kevin Baines and Dr. Tom Stallard of the University of Leicester while they are engaged in using the telescope.

Cassini IR Aurorae

This false-color composite image, constructed from data obtained by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Image credit NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/University of Leicester

Sunday April 21st
3am-5am Hawai’i Standard Time
6am-8am Pacific Daylight Time
9am-11am Eastern Daylight Time
1pm-3pm UT

You can join the webcast on UStream at the Live from Keck Observatory channel.

A number of telescopes are involved with these observations including NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the Cassini spacecraft in orbit around Saturn, the ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, and NASA’s IRTF telescope here on Mauna Kea.

At Keck the team of astronomers have five half night’s of observing on Keck 2 using the NIRSPEC spectrograph. They will be making infrared observations to understand more about the auroral features and the interaction of Saturn’s atmosphere with the planet’s magnetic fields.