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I was reading through some of my astronomy logbooks and realized that my first telescopic observation of Saturn was in the fall of 1973, and not 1974 as had thought. So I decided to go back though my observations of Saturn and post some of the more memorable ones over the past forty years.
Like many people at the time, I started out with a small achromatic refractor. The first one was a 40mm refractor that I bought in 1972. It had a fixed magnification of 10x and I had to hand held it but it did provide my first views of celestial objects. The next telescope was a 60mm refractor made by Jason, designed for terrestrial viewing and only gave powers up to 60x. It had terrible secondary color on bright objects, and the alt-az mount was not very stable. It cost $29.95 back in 1973, which was a lot for me at the time. But, it showed me the main cloud belts on Jupiter, and I watched its four Galilean satellites as they changed position night after night.
The fact I could see this on a planet that was over 480 million miles away really was amazing to me. Add to that the fact that I could see craters on the moon and I was hooked! It was with this telescope that I first began making sketches at the eyepiece of astronomical objects, which has come to be a lifelong interest for me.
Still, I longed for a true astronomical telescope, one that could use higher magnifications and not have such bad secondary color. A friend of me led me to a garage sale one day where I found just such a telescope. It was another 60mm achromatic refractor, imported from Japan, and made by a company called Scope, aptly enough. But the lens was an air-spaced doublet, not a cemented doublet like the Jason, and the telescope came with slow motions controls on both axes. Best of all, it could be used at higher magnifications and give clean, crisp, and contrasty images.
With this telescope I observed Saturn for the first time, which I remember to this day the beauty of its rings. It provided also more detail on Jupiter, as well as my first views of Mars. In addition I observed M-13 for the first time, and my first deep-sky sketch was of this cluster.
I realized over time that this telescope helped to take my interest in observing to the next level, and is part of the reason I am still observing decades later. Sometimes we never know where our choices may take us in life.
Thinking back to when I bought the 60mm refractor astronomical equipment has changed a lot. For example some of the things we take for granted today were not available back then. Take the adjustable observing chair. They are common today but back then you needed to come up with your own solution. In my case in order for me to be able to be seated comfortably at the eyepiece while using a reflector I had to put a porch chair on a pair of picnic benches. It worked fine until I moved the chair too much in which case it would slip off of the picnic benches and I could end up on the ground with the wind knocked out of me.
Or take the small LED astronomy flashlights that we use today. They are small, lightweight and can be hung around your neck and are handy when taking notes or making sketches. They often come with both a red light and white light. Back then we used flashlights that were large which made it harder to balance it, a notebook, and sketch at the same time. Also we had to attach layers of red cellophane so we would not lose our dark adaptation of the eyes while taking notes or making sketches.
Or eyepiece cases. Back the for my Criterion RV-6 6" f/8 reflector I had one eyepiece case. It held three 1.25" eyepieces, a Barlow, and three color filters for the planets. I did not own any deep-sky filters at the time as they did not start to become available commercially until the late 1970's. Now I have two large cases full of 1.25" and 2" eyepieces and a number of filters for both the planets and deep-sky.
3:30 UT - 4:00 UT clear sky with good seeing. Cassini Division prominent. Equatorial Belt light brown in color. Titan is to the upper right.
4:00 UT - 4:50 UT, clear sky with fair seeing. Cassini Division prominent. Equatorial Zone appeared white in color. Equatorial Belt light brown in color. Tethys is to the left of the planet, Rhea is above, and Titan is to the right.
3:55 UT - 4:50 UT, clear sky with excellent seeing and no wind.
The Cassini Division prominent. The Equatorial Zone appeared light yellow in color. Equatorial Belt light brown in color.
Tethys is to the left of the planet, Rhea and Titan are to the right.
Saturn was at opposition and had an altitude of 65 degrees. It was one of those cold winter nights where regardless of how many cloths you put on you can feel the cold finding ways to get through anyway. The seeing conditions were excellent, with no wind, and I was able to use a magnification of over 100x per inch of aperture using Orthoscopics eyepieces and the image was still sharp, contrasty and with very little image breakdown according to the notes I made with the sketch that night. It was one of the most memorable views of Saturn I have ever had. It was also the best view I had of Saturn until I started using apo refractors some years later.
A Great Conjunction is a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn. They take place on a regular basis every 18–20 years. It is a result of the combined approximately 12-year orbital period of Jupiter around the Sun, and Saturn's roughly 30-year orbital period.
The one I observed was January 14, 1981 07:58 UT when Jupiter was 1°09' south of Saturn. Through my C8 at low power it was it was interesting to see both planets in the same field of view and compare them: Jupiter larger and brighter yet Saturn and its ring system always pretty to see. Several moons were visible near both Jupiter and Saturn. It was one of my most memorable observations of Saturn and Jupiter that I ever had.
I was reading through one of my old astronomy log books recently and came across an observation I made of Saturn occulting a bright star on July 3rd, 1989 and thought it might be of interest to other observers. So I decided to post it here. If I come across other past observations from time to time that might be of interest to others I'll post them here also.
The star that Saturn was going to occult was 28 Sagittarii, which has a magnitude of 5.37 and is located in the constellation of Sagittarius. The star was due to traverse behind the A-Ring, B-Ring, C-Ring or Crepe Ring, and the globe of Saturn. The occultation begin around 5:57 UT when Saturn had an elevation of 23° and ended around 7:00 UT when Saturn had an elevation of 18°. At the time Saturn was just past opposition and had an equatorial diameter of 18.34" and a polar diameter of 16.37".
I used an AP 7" f/9 refractor with magnifications of 152x and 243x. The observation was handicapped somewhat by the seeing as it was quite variable, sometimes settling down to good, and other times becoming so poor that the globe of Saturn and the rings appeared to merge into one blurry image. In addition the local mosquito population was extremely hungry, in spite of the copious amounts of bug repellant that I applied.
I set up early and watched as the star grew closer to Saturn. As the star entered and traversed behind the A-Ring I was surprised to note that its brightness seemed to vary in intensity a number of times, as well as disappear behind the ring several times. This indicated that there were differences in ring thickness or density in the A-Ring.
The star was a striking sight as it shown brightly in the Cassini Division.
As the star entered and traversed behind the B-Ring its brightness varied in intensity a number of times as well, but it seemed to disappear more often than when it traversed behind the A-Ring, suggesting that the B-Ring was more dense than the A-Ring. Recent data from the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn indicates that the B-Ring is the densest ring.
As the star entered and traversed behind the C-Ring or Crepe Ring its light varied in intensity, but I did not note it disappearing as it did in the A-Ring or B-Ring.
Finally as the star reached the edge of the globe it seemed to dim and brighten several times before disappearing. This indicates different belts, zones, or layers of Saturn's atmosphere.
Overall it was a very memorable observation and it helped me to learn about Saturn's ring structure and its atmosphere.
October 27, 1990, 4:10 - 5:00 UT, seeing 9 (0 worst, 10 best), transparency 5.
Astro-Physics 7" f/9 refractor on an AP 706 mount. Magnification 243 - 275x .
The Saturn White Spot is visible in the Equatorial region. It was discovered on September 25 1990 by amateur astronomers. The storm eventually extended completely around the planet. The last time one was observed in this region was 1933.
I finally was able to observe the new white "spot" in Saturn's Equatorial region, which was origunally reported a few weeks ago but has since spread out.
Through the telescope it seemed to extend at least one third to one half of the Equatorial Zone, and seems quite bright for Saturn.
September 21, 1991, 2:00 - 3:00 UT, seeing 6 (0 worst, 10 best), transparency 4.
Astro-Physics 7" f/9 refractor on an AP 706 mount. Magnification 304 - 403x.
The Saturn White Spot is visible in the Equatorial region.
The South Polar Region was light green in color, while the northern portion of the globe was tan. The Equatorial Zone was light yellow in color. The Equatorial belt was brown in color. The C-Ring was dark gray. The B-Ring was white while the A-Ring was off white.
I set up my AP Star12 ED 120mm f/8.5 apo refractor up early as Saturn was only going to be about 20 degrees above the horizon when civil twilight started.
Even at low power Saturn looked weird, like a smaller and less active and less colorful version of Jupiter. However unlike Jupiter only one belt was visible on Saturn, and as without the rings the planet seemed dim.
I had hoped to see the moons near Saturn but the sky was too light.
As I increased the magnification and used averted vision there were times when I thought I could make out a faint line that extended out from each side of the globe that may have been the rings.
September 14, 1997, 5:05 - 5:55 UT, seeing 9 (0 worst, 10 best), transparency 2.
Astro-Physics 7.1" f/9 EDT refractor on homemade Dobsonian-style mount. Magnification 270 - 405x with Clave prism diagonal.
Faint Equatorial Band visible in Equatorial Zone. Titan resolved as a disk and a light reddish-orange color. Southern portion of South Equatorial Belt appeared double. Inner portion of B-Ring shaded, and composed of very fine lines or spokes. I was not sure what these very fine lines or spokes were, as they did not look like spokes I had seen in books or photographs, which were usually further out in the B-Ring.
Seven months later while reading the April 1998 issue of Sky and Telescope I noted these fines lines that I saw were similar to those shown in a drawing made by Phillip Sidney Coolidge at Harvard Observatory using a 15" achromatic refractor back in the 1850's.
5:00 - 5:30 UT, seeing 6 - 7, transparency 5.
Astro-Physics 7.1" f/9 EDT refractor on homemade Dobsonian-style mount. Magnification 184 - 283x with Baader binoviewer.
The northern edge of the South Equatorial Belt (SEB) appeared irregular in outline and near the preceding or left edge looked serrated. Also light colored material visible in SEB. Equatorial Band visible in Equatorial Zone. Encke Minima visible in following ansae in A-Ring. A-Ring darker then B-Ring. Spokes visible in inner portion of B-Ring, as well as several ring divisions. The C or Crepe Ring prominent. Titan resolved as a disk and was a light red color.
I set the 90mm F/5 apo refractor up to observe an occultation of Saturn by the Moon. The Moon was near last quarter. The occultation occurred around 13:26 UT and lasted for around a minute. The sky was clear with some haze so Saturn was a little washed out. I used a binocular viewer at 77x.
It was neat to observe. When Saturn was halfway occulted behind the Moon it looked as if it had crashed into it. As the occultation progressed only one side of Saturn’s ring was visible, so it looked like some strange man-made structure on the Moon, such as the St. Louis Gateway Arch.
Saturn finally disappeared behind the Moon, so I put the telescope away and headed off to work. In my astronomy logbook I noted that I was taking a flight a few days later to attend the AstroFest Astronomy Convention outside of Chicago.
I did not know at the time of the attacks that would occur the following day on 9/11 so no one would be flying for a while. However at least the man who planned them has now gone to meet his maker.
October 6, 2002, 7:35 - 10:35 UT, seeing 5 - 8 (fair - very good) transparency 5.
Astro-Physics 7.1" f/9 EDT refractor on homemade Dobsonian-style mount. Magnification 230x - 306 with Baader binoviewer.
The South Polar Region (SPR), the South South Temperate Zone (SSTeZ), and the South South Temperate Band (SSTeB) appeared green in color. The South Tropical Zone (STrZ) appeared tan-brown in color.
The South Equatorial Belt (SEB) was light brown, and appeared bisected by a rift which divided the SEB into the South Equatorial Belt south (SEBs), and South Equatorial Belt north (SEBn). The SEB south near the preceding limb appeared to have two indentations or notches along the top. Near the following limb the SEB appeared to have a dark patch or section that straddled the rift and was partially visible across it.
The Equatorial Zone (EZ) appeared light yellow. A faint Equatorial Band (EB) was visible that divided the EZ into the EZ south (EZs) and EZ north (EZn).
The shadow of the globe was visible on the rings, giving the planet a 3-D look to it. The Crepe Ring was prominent and visible in front of the globe.
On the preceding (or left) ansae of the B-Ring several spokes were visible, which during the course of the observation appeared to have rotated from the 9:00 o'clock position up towards the 11:00 o'clock position on the rings. On the following ansae one intensity minima was visible, and shading extended from the C-Ring out into the B-Ring.
The Cassini Division was visible all the way around the rings, with the globe of the planet faintly visible in the Cassini Division in front of the globe. A-Ring appeared darker then B-Ring, and the Encke Minima was visible on both ansae of the A-Ring.
Five satellites were visible near Saturn including Tethys, Dione, Rhea, Iapetus, and Titan. When the seeing settled down Titan had a slight reddish-orange color to it.
December 29, 2002 8:55 PM - 9:45 PM, seeing 4-5, transparency 4.5. South is at the bottom.
Astro-Physics 5.1" f/8.35 EDF refractor on homemade Dobsonian-style mount. Magnification 68x-91x.
In late December 2002 and early January 2003 Saturn was near the Crab Nebula, and on the night of January 4-5 2003 it passed in front of the nebula. This sketch was made six days before it transited in front of the nebula. M 1 (NGC 1952) is a Supernova Remnant located in the constellation Taurus. The diameter of the nebula is 6' x 4' and it has a magnitude of 8.4. It is approximately 6,500 light years away.
The Crab Nebula was first discovered by the English physician and amateur astronomer John Bevis in 1731. Charles Messier first observed it on September 12 1758.
Messier described it as a "Nebula above the southern horn of Taurus, which does not contain any stars. Its light is whitish and elongated like a candle flame." This discovery prompted him to compile his famous catalogue of nebula and clusters so that other observers would not confuse them with comets: "What caused me to undertake the catalog was the nebula I discovered above the southern horn of Taurus on Sept. 12, 1758, while observing the comet of that year...This nebula had such a resemblance to a comet, in its form and brightness, that I endeavored to find others, so that astronomers would not confuse these nebulae with comets just beginning to shine."
It was Lord Rosse who gave it the name "The Crab Nebula" in 1844. He saw the extending filaments and referred to them as resembling the legs of a crab.
William Lassell, observing it in December 1852 with his 24" speculum metal reflector, confirmed these filamentary structures: "With 160x it is a very bright nebula, with two or three stars in it, but with 565x...Long filaments run out from all sides and there seems to be a number of minute and faint stars scattered over it; the outlying claws are only just circumscribed by the edge of the field of 6' diameter..."
M 1 was formed by a supernova explosion that occurred in 1054 A.D. It was reported by Chinese observers as "It was visible in the day like Venus, with pointed rays in all four directions. The color was reddish white." It was seen for twenty-three days in the daylight sky.
Through the eyepiece of the 5.1" the nebula is relatively bright, with an irregular shape to it and diffuse near the edge, with a slightly brighter inner portion that resembled a Z shape. The nebula appears light green in color. Saturn showed a light yellow Equatorial Zone, a tan South Tropical Zone, and a green South Polar Region. The Cassini Division was visible on both ansae and in front of the globe, as was the Crepe Ring, although these features do not show up well in the sketch when it was scanned in. Four moons were visible nearby including Titan, Tethys, Dione, and Rhea.
3:00 - 4:30 UT, seeing 6 (good) transparency 3 - 4.
The South Polar Region (SPR), the South South Temperate Zone (SSTeZ), and the South South Temperate Band (SSTeB) appeared green in color.
The South Tropical Zone (STrZ) appeared tan in color, and showed some variation in tone.
The South Equatorial Belt (SEB) was light brown and divided into the South Equatorial Belt south (SEBs), Equatorial Belt zone (white in color), and South Equatorial Belt north (SEBn).
The Equatorial Zone (EZ) appeared light yellow. A faint Equatorial Band (EB) was visible that divided the EZ into the EZ south (EZs) and EZ north (EZn).
The Crepe Ring was prominent and visible in front of the globe. The Cassini Division was visible all the way around the rings, with the globe of the planet faintly visible in the Cassini Division in front of the globe. The A-Ring appeared darker then the B-Ring, and the Encke Minima was visible on both ansae of the A-Ring. On the inner portion of the B-Ring shading was noted on both ansae, which was more prominent on the following or right hand side. The shading on the preceding ansae appeared to have a lighter portion between it. A ringlet or intensity minima was visible on the following ansae of the B-Ring.
Six satellites were visible near Saturn including Rhea, Dione, Tethys, Iapetus, Enceladus, and Titan. In the above sketch the two moons visible below Saturn are Dione (left) and Tethys (right). When the seeing settled down Titan appeared as a disk and had a slight reddish-orange color to it.
I set the TMB 175mm f/8 refractor on my homemade Dobsonian-style mount on a couple of nights in mid-October to observe some deep-sky objects, Saturn and Venus. During this first observing session the sky was clear with the limiting magnitude of around 5.4 and the seeing was mostly fair. During the second observing session when observing open clusters in Cassiopeia there was some interference from moonlight and increasing clouds so I had to end the session early.
As with previous observing sessions with the 175mm I noted that the colors of the stars were more pronounced than other telescopes I have used, particularly orange and red colored stars. This made my observing session interesting as I found myself scanning around and seeing stars I had not noted before.
The first object I observed was NGC 7662, The Blue Snowball Nebula, a planetary nebula located Andromeda. It has a magnitude of 9.2 and is 12.0" in diameter. It was discovered by William Herschel on October 6th, 1784 while using his 6.2" aperture reflecting telescope that had a focal length of 7 feet and a focal ratio of f/13.6. This was the 18th planetary nebula he discovered so is given the designation of H IV-18. Of the nebula he wrote:
"A bright, round, pretty well defined planetary disk of about 15" diameter."
When viewed with his larger 18.7" reflector that had a focal length of 20 feet and a focal ratio of f/12.8 William Herschel felt it appeared a little elliptical and the diameter was closer to 12". It was his son John Herschel who was the first observer to notice a blue tint to the nebula.
Through the TMB 175mm at 45x the nebula looked non-stellar as it showed a disk and had a light blue color to it. At higher magnifications of 88x and 117x the nebula appeared slightly elongated, and brighter around the edge than the inner portion which looked somewhat mottled, with a darker portion near the top.
Next up was The Andromeda Galaxy M 31 (NGC 224). It is a spiral galaxy that has a magnitude of 3.4 and is over 3 degrees in diameter. At low power it appeared very large with a brighter central region and star-like nucleus at its center. Two dust lanes were visible along its northwestern rim, and at higher magnifications of 88x, 100x, and 117x the dust lanes appeared to have darker and lighter material within them. These dust lanes were visible around each side of the nucleus and provided kind of a "race-track" appearance around the nucleus. NGC 206, a starcloud in one of the arms of M31, was visible as well.
M 32 (NGC 221) and M110 (NGC 205) are starlight galaxies near M31. M32 is a dwarf elliptical galaxy with a magnitude of 8.2 and is 8.5'x6.5' in size. At 45x to 88x the central region appears bright and star-like, with the galaxy appearing compact and elliptical in shape. It has a bright central region that fades out to the edge, and a star-like nucleus at its center. There were times I thought I could see a second star-like feature offset to one side of the central region.
M 110 is an elliptical galaxy with a magnitude of 8.0 and a diameter of 19.5'x11.5'. Although M110 was observed by Charles Messier in 1773 he failed to include it in his catalog, but it is now called M110. Caroline Herschel, William Herschel's sister, independently discovered it ten years later in August 1783.
Through the 175mm at 45x to 88x M 110 appears large, very elongated, with a brighter central region, and shows a mottled appearance with some variation in tone. In photographs M110 often appears to stretch out towards M31 with a bridge of material between the two. While I did not see this bridge I did get the impression that the influence of M31 has stretched M110 towards it.
M 33 (NGC 598), is a spiral galaxy located in the constellation of Triangulum that has a magnitude of 5.7 and is 68.7'x41.6' in size. It was discovered by Charles Messier on August 25 1764. Of the nebula he wrote:
"The nebula's light is whitish, and almost even in density, but is slightly brighter over the central two-thirds of its diameter, and does not contain any stars."
M 33's spiral structure was detected by Lord Rosse in the mid-1800's using his 72" reflector.
At 25x and 34x magnification in the 175mm M33 appears large and light green in color with an elongated brighter central region. There appear to be faint spiral arms visible. At 54x and 70x the central portion appears mottled with many variations in tone, and the spiral arms are better defined. The two prominent spiral arms that give this galaxy its s-shape are well defined, as are two or three fainter arms. Within the arms there appear to be several HII regions, including NGC 604, as well as some stars.
M 42 (NGC 1976), The Orion Nebula, is an emission nebula and cluster with a magnitude of 3.7 and is 90.0'x60.0' in size. Messier observed it on March 4, 1769, and wrote:
"The position of the beautiful nebula in Orion's sword, around the star Theta, which lies within it together with three other, fainter stars".
William Herschel was known to observe the Orion Nebula on many occasions as it became his lifelong interest. Later his son John compared the nebula to a:
"surface strewn with flocks of wool - or like the breaking up of a mackerel sky when the clouds of which it consists begin to assume a cirrus appearance".
In the 175mm the central and outer portions of the nebula had this mackerel and cirrus appearance to it. The colors were also pronounced, particularly at low powers, where the "bat wings" along the bottom of the nebula, as well as the central region where the "fish mouth" was located appeared light blue-green, while the outer regions appeared striated and tinged with red. When the seeing settled down I was able to resolve the six stars in the Trapezium.
In addition, the comma-shaped nebula M43 (NGC 1982) was visible below M42, as was NGC 1977. The 175mm provided me with one of the most remarkable views I have ever had of the Orion Nebula. I have seen more detail in larger telescopes like my old 20" reflector, but the contrast, sharpness, and image brightness of this telescope provided a more aesthetically pleasing view, and helped to enhance the fainter differences between the various portions of the nebula.
After I finished observing the deep-sky objects I turned the telescope over to observe Saturn which was very pretty as always. One of the things that struck me was how little light scatter there was around the planet, as well as how high the contrast was when compared to other telescopes I have observed it with over the years. This helped to bring out detail even though the seeing was only fair at best. This included a faint Equatorial Band (EB) that divided the Equatorial Zone (EZ) into the EZ south (EZs) and EZ north (EZn). The EZ appeared light yellow, while the South Equatorial Belt (SEB) light brown. In the South Polar Region (SPR), the South Polar Cap (SPC), the South South Temperate Zone (SSTeZ), and the South South Temperate Belt (SSTeB) appeared green in color.
The Crepe Ring was visible in front of the globe, with the Cassini Division prominent, and the A-Ring appearing darker then the B-Ring.
Four satellites were visible near Saturn including Rhea, Dione, Tethys, and Titan. When the seeing settled down Titan appeared as a disk and had a slight orange-reddish color to it.
When observing Saturn I noted also that the North Polar Region (NPR) was visible just below the rings. The last time the NPR was visible was in spring 2000. The rings will continue to open in the coming years and the Northern Hampshire will become more prominent. As seen from Earth the rings vary from 0 degrees to -27 degrees when the southern portion of the globe is visible, then from 0 degrees to +27 when the northern portion of the globe is visible. There is evidence to suggest that this change in ring angle cause seasonal color changes of Saturn's atmosphere. For example, when one hemisphere has been in eclipse by the rings for a number of years, as the Northern Hampshire is now, the color of that hemisphere has more of a gray, gray-green, or blue-gray color to it. When one hemisphere had been exposed to the sun for a longer period of time, such as the Southern Hemisphere is now, the colors appear more yellow and yellow-brown in appearance.
In the eastern sky Venus shown brightly in the constellation of Leo so I swung the telescope over to observe it. The seeing was worse for Venus than for Saturn, but Venus did show its gibbous shape and there were some dusky markings along its terminator.
Cassiopeia has a number of open clusters in it including M103, NGC 654, NGC 659, and NGC 7789. On the night I was observing these clusters with the 175mm there was interference from moonlight and the clouds were on the increase so I was only able to observe two of them, M103 and NGC 659.
M103 (NGC 581) has a magnitude of 7.4 and is 6.0' in size. It was discovered by Pierre Mechain in 1781 and later added to Messier's catalog. It is located about a degree northeast of Delta Cassiopeia. At low power (25x) M103 appeared as a small smattering of stars that forms a Christmas-tree shape with four or five brighter stars and many smaller and fainter stars. As I was star hopping from Delta Cassiopeia to M103 I noticed a small collection of stars in a shape that reminded me of a mini-Little Dipper. One of these stars, TYC 3682-905-1, was red in color.
Nearby to M103 is NGC 659, and open cluster with a magnitude of 7.9. NGC 659 was discovered by Caroline Herschel in 1783. It was given the Herschel designation of H VIII 65, as it was the 65th object classified into category VIII, which is "Coarsely scattered clusters of stars". William Herschel observed the open cluster on November 3rd 1786 and noted:
"A small cometic or resembling a telescopic comet a little of small stars not very rich".
NGC 659 is smaller than M103 with a size of 5.0'. It lies about 10' to the northeast of a conspicuous triangle of stars formed by 44 Cassiopeia at magnitude 5.9 and two other stars with magnitudes of 6.5 and 8.5. Through the 175mm it appears as a small group of stars in a C-shape, with one of the stars TYC 4032-1662-1 orange in color.
One of the things I enjoy about being under the night sky with a telescope is the serenity and sense of connection with the universe. For example I can observe light that left the Andromeda Galaxy over 200 million years ago when the dinosaurs still roamed the Earth, and yet at the same time listen to nature that exists on our world today. This includes an owl in a nearby tree calling out to its mate, or geese in a nearby field as they suddenly honk a few times and rustle around a little bit before settling down again in the cold night air. Or a coyote as it howls in the distance. Astronomy has a way of helping us to see where we fit in the grand scheme of things, whether it is here on a small planet we call home or in the larger universe.
I had the opportunity to observe the conjunction of Mercury, Venus, and Saturn on June 27th, 2005 using my binoculars shortly after sunset.
It was a partly clear evening with some clouds and haze. However Venus and Mercury were easily visible to the unaided eye within 0.1° of each other and about 11° above the horizon. Venus with a magnitude of -3.9 was noticeably brighter than Mercury, which had magnitude of -0.0. Through the binoculars Mercury appeared to have an orange color to it, while Venus appeared more off-white in color. There were times when they both seemed to show a gibbous phase, with Venus, which had a diameter of 10.91", being easier to denote than Mercury, which had a diameter of 6.59".
Saturn, which was lower in sky (around 9 degrees above the horizon) was not readily visible without binoculars. Through the binoculars it appeared somewhat elongated, and had a creamy tan color to it. In comparing the colors of Mercury, Venus, and Saturn I recalled having observed a conjunction between Venus and Jupiter a few years ago. At the time Venus appeared more yellow-white in color compared to Jupiter which appeared more off-white, perhaps because of the differences in the composition of their atmosphere's.
We had some clear skies recently so I decided to get some more deep-sky observing in with the TMB 130mm f/9.25 refractor while the Moon was near its new phase. The weather conditions were not the best, as the limiting magnitude was around 4.9, and on the best nights at my observing site it is around 5.5. Plus the wind was gusty from time to time, and high clouds drifted through, but as time went on the winds subsided and the skies cleared. I observed for about six hours.
First up was VX Andromedae, a carbon star located not far from the Andromeda Galaxy. Its magnitude varies from 8.0 to 9.5 magnitude in 367 days. Through the telescope at 39x (31mm TV Nagler) and 60x (20mm Nagler) the star had a pronounced deep orange color to it. Carbon stars have surface temperatures that range from 2000K to 3000K and are usually giant variable stars. They have outer shells or clouds of carbon dust that gives them a deep red or deep orange color. It was neat to observe.
I then observed NGC 7789, an open cluster located in Cassiopeia. It has a magnitude of 6.7, and a size of 25'. It has several hundred 11th magnitudes and fainter stars. The cluster was discovered by Caroline Herschel in 1783 using a telescope that her brother William made for her that she could use to sweep for comets, double stars, and nebula while he was away. William observed it on November 3, 1787 using his 18.7" reflector and wrote:
"A beautiful cluster of very compressed small stars very rich."
Through the 130mm the cluster appeared faint and quite large at 29x (41mm Panoptic). It became easier to resolve the stars as I increased magnification to 60x (20mm Nagler). Some of the stars along the bottom cluster appeared brighter than those near the top or in the interior portion of the cluster.
M1, the Crab Nebula, was near the meridian at this point so I swung the telescope over to observe it. At 39x (31mm Nagler) the nebula appeared somewhat elongated and had a light greenish color to it. It appeared mottled at 60x (20mm Nagler).
At low power, 29x (41mm Panoptic) and 39x (31mm Nagler), the central region of the Orion Nebula M 42, was light blue in color and appeared mottled. At higher magnifications (75x, TMB 16mm Super Monocentric, and 86x, TMB 14mm Super Monocentric) there appeared to be some dark striations visible in the central region of the nebula, and the fifth and sixth stars were visible in the Trapezium. Along the bottom of the nebula, the "bat wings" were prominent (visible in this image I took of M42 ), with the left hand side having a slight mauve or light purple color to it, while the right hand side appeared bisected. Extending up from the bat wings the left-hand side appeared feathered as it extended towards the top of the nebula, while the right hand side was more diffuse. M43 was visible below M42.
I had observed M 97 during my last observing session with the 130mm so decided to observe it again as well as M 108, which is located nearby. Both of these objects fit into the same field of view of the 41mm Panoptic and 31mm TV Nagler, with M97 appearing larger and brighter than M108. M108 is a galaxy with a magnitude of 10.6 and is 8.6'x2.4' in size. As with M97, it was discovered by Pierre Mechain in 1781 - 1782. While observing the galaxy at 50x (24mm TV Panoptic) a telescopic meteor appeared and disappeared within the field of view, which was cool to see. The galaxy appears as an elongated slash of light and at 75x (TMB 16mm Super Monocentric) it appears to have some mottling and brighter portions visible near the center. There is also a relatively bright foreground star visible in front of the center of the M108.
At low powers Saturn was very pretty near M 44, which had a mix of yellow and white colored stars. At higher magnifications, using the Baader binoviewer with 1.7x corrector and a pair of TMB 8mm and 7mm Super Monocentrics (255x and 292x respectively), Saturn showed interesting detail. This included the North Polar Region which appeared blue in color, the Equatorial Band visible in the Equatorial Zone which was a light yellow color, the South Tropical Zone which was tan in color, and the South South Temperate Belt which was green in color.
The Crepe Ring was visible on both sides of the globe as well as in front of the globe. It has been noted recently that when Saturn is at opposition and its rings are wide open there can be a marked increase in ring brightness. This seemed to be the case when I observed Saturn as the B-Ring in particular seemed brighter.
In addition Saturn's moon Rhea appeared larger or brighter than Dione. While it is true that Rhea is larger than Dione, and brighter (Rhea has a magnitude of 9.5 while Dione has a magnitude of 10.2) this was the first time I have noted that Rhea appeared larger and brighter. I will need to observe these moons again in the coming weeks and months and see if there still appears to be a difference in size between them. As I have seen before Titan had a red color to it.
After finishing up some deep-sky observing with the TMB 130mm f/9.25 apo refractor on its alt-az mount I noted that Saturn was well placed in the eastern sky so I swung the scope over to observe it. Saturn rises around 8:00 PM now and will continue to rise earlier as it heads towards opposition on February 10th, 2007. The seeing conditions for Saturn were good at first and I was able to employ magnifications of 227x - 292x with a Baader binocular viewer. However high clouds obscured the view as time went on and reduced amount of detail visible.
The northern portion of the globe had a medium blue cast to it. The Equatorial Zone (EZ) was light yellow in color. The South Equatorial Belt (SEB) was light brown and divided into the South Equatorial Belt south (SEBs) and South Equatorial Belt north (SEBn) by the Equatorial Belt Zone which was white in color. The southern portion of the globe had a green color to it.
Saturn's rings cast a shadow onto the northern portion of the globe. This, in combination with the Crepe Ring being visible in front of the EZ, gave the rings a 3-dimensional appearance. The shadow of the globe on the rings gave the planet a 3-dimensional appearance as well. The Cassini Division was visible on the sides of the rings or ansae (the Latin word for handles), as well as in front of the globe. The Crepe Ring was visible on both sides of the globe also.
Titan, Rhea, and Tethys were visible near Saturn.
With clear skies and a limiting magnitude around 5.5 ~ 5.6 I decided to observe Venus, Saturn, and some deep-sky objects with the TMB 130mm f/9.25 apo refractor on its alt-az mount. First up was Venus which at magnitude -4.1 appeared dazzling bright at 128x. The seeing wasn't very good for the planet but even so its 66% phase was well resolved and there were some dusky markings along the terminator.
It has been a while since I last had the opportunity to observe Saturn and it appeared very pretty through the telescope at 128x. The seeing was much better for Saturn, so I was gradually able to increase the magnification to 292x. The South Polar Region had a small round "cap" to it which had a slight green color. The South Tropical Zone was tan in color, and the South Equatorial Belt, south (SEBs), and South Equatorial Belt, north (SEBn) were light brown in color. The South Equatorial Belt Zone (SEBz) was visible between the SEBs and SEBn. The Equatorial Zone appeared light yellow in color. The North Polar Region (NPR) had a light blue color to it.
The A-Ring appeared darker then B-Ring, and the Cassini Division was visible on both sides of the globe. The C-Ring was visible on both sides of the globe also, and was visible in front of the planet. The rings cast a shadow on the NPR, and with Saturn was near quadrature, the shadow of the globe on the rings was very noticeable. This gave the planet a pronounced 3D appearance. Four moons were visible near Saturn, including Rhea, Dione, Tethys, and Titan. This was one of the nicest views of Saturn I have had in a long while. I wish I had this kind of seeing more often.
Next I moved the telescope over to observe V Boo, a variable star in the constellation Bootes. At 30x this star was very pretty with reddish-orange color.
With Coma Berenices well placed in the sky I decided to observe some deep-sky objects in it. The first one was NGC 4559, which is a galaxy with a magnitude 10.0. Through the telescope at 30x it appeared faint and oval in shape. At 50x it appeared more comma shaped and with averted vision there appeared to be one or two dark circular lanes near the center. Two stars were visible near one end of the galaxy.
NGC 4565 is a galaxy near NGC 4559 with a magnitude of 10.3. At 30x it appears as an elongated spindle of light. At 50x it appears larger and brighter. With averted vision a brighter bulge was visible near the center along the top of the galaxy with perhaps a star-like nucleus to it. Also there was a hint of dark dust lane across its center.
M 53 is a globular cluster with a magnitude of 7.6. At 30x the cluster showed a concentrated core and some of the stars were resolved. At 86x the cluster was better resolved.
M 64, the Black Eye galaxy appeared relatively large and bright with an oval shape at 30x and a brighter central region. At 50x the galaxy appeared more elongated with a star-like nucleus, a brighter inner region and a fainter outer region. At 86x with averted vision there was a hint of the dark dust lane that gives this galaxy its nickname. I almost felt that I was looking across the plane of the galaxy.
After observing M 64 it was time to call it a night. I had observed for about three hours and would have liked to stay out longer but it was a work night so it was time to pack it in. As I started to take down my telescope I noted that Jupiter was rising in the southeastern sky while Venus was setting in the northwestern sky. When I first set the telescope up the stars of fall and winter were setting in the western sky, and by the end of the observing session the stars of spring were overhead while the stars of summer were rising in the eastern sky. It felt like the sky was in a state of transition, as we sometimes feel about our own lives.
I recently had the opportunity to get in a couple of early morning observing sessions, one with the TMB 130mm f/9.25 and the other with the TMB 105mm f/6.2.
During the first session with the TMB 130mm I observed Mars, Venus, and the Moon. There were some high clouds that obscured the view from time to time, and the seeing was variable, ranging from fair to good. First up was Mars, which was at magnitude -0.1 and had a diameter of 9.65". Through the binocular viewer at 292x it showed a gibbous phase, and some surface and atmospheric features. This included the North Polar Hood clouds, which appeared gray-blue in color. In the southern portion of the globe Mare Erythraeum, Protei Regio, and Solis Lacus were visible.
At 40x Venus was well resolved and was quite bright with a magnitude of -4.5. Its diameter was 34.52". There appeared to be some dusky markings along the terminator. The 33% crescent phase of Venus reminded me of an eclipse of the Sun. Through the binocular viewer at 85x the dusky markings along the terminator were more pronounced.
The Moon was a few days past full and the terminator was near Palus Somni, and there was some interesting detail visible. This included the crater walls of Hercules, which appeared to be higher than the nearby mare. The fine detail in craters including Longomontaus and Tycho was also impressive. The craters and mountains near the limb of the Moon appeared higher in elevation than the mare as well. The TMB apo refractors that I own provide high contrast views, and shows subtle differences in color, contrast, and tone. For lack of a better word, the view seems more "real" or "natural" to me. This in combination with the binocular viewer gave a pronounced 3-D look to the lunar features. The result was a feeling that I was looking at these lunar features from above the Moon rather than through a telescope. Although I had this impression before when using other telescopes since 1972, and have seen more lunar detail in larger aperture telescopes, the view does not have quite the same "natural" view to it so the feeling of looking at the Moon from orbit is not as strong or pronounced as in the TMB refractors.
For the second observing session I set up the TMB 105mm f/6.2. It was a clear night with the crescent Moon in the eastern sky. The seeing varied from fair to good.
I began by observing M 42, and at 47x the four stars in the Trapezium were resolved. The central portion of the nebula had showed some variation in tone or mottling and had a slight green-blue color to it. Some nebulosity was visible extending up from the bat wings along the bottom of the nebula.
Saturn was very pretty to see again as always. One of the first things that struck me about Saturn was how much narrower the rings were than the last time I observed the planet, so it did not seem as bright. Through the binocular viewer at 158x shadow of the rings on the globe was pronounced and the Equatorial Zone was visible. On one side of the planet Titan was visible while on the other side Rhea was visible.
At 22x the crescent Moon and M 44 the Beehive Cluster looked very pretty near each other. I inserted the binocular viewer and with steady seeing conditions slowly increased the magnification to 277x. As with the TMB 130mm, I was impressed by the natural view of the lunar features and the pronounced 3-D look to them.
While observing I thought about my friend Thomas Back and how I appreciated the fine telescopes and eyepieces that he designed. The last email I received from him was about a week before he passed away. He had been ill for a while but during our last email exchange there was no indication that his condition had worsened. It is a reminder that we should appreciate the people in our lives, such as friends, family, and loved ones, for we never know what the future holds.
Still there is a perspective that astronomy can provide to our lives, even during sad times. I was driving past a farmland one morning and the gibbous Moon was setting behind a hill. On the hill there were some trees that had just started to show some fall color, a farm house, and in the foreground some cows were gazing on the grass. The scene showed the connection between the Earth and the nourishment it provides for physical and spiritual life, the Moon, and the larger universe to which we all belong.
I noticed a few weeks ago before dawn that the shape of the constellation Leo had changed with the addition of Venus and Saturn nearby. Recently these planets were within a few degrees of each other and with five to six degrees of Regulus so I set up the TMB 105mm f/6.2 to observe them. Also I set up the TMB 130mm f/9.25 to observe Mars.
It was a mostly clear sky with a limiting magnitude around 5.0 but high clouds drifted in from time to time. The seeing for Mars was quite variable, ranging from poor to fair to good. I spent some time studying Mars and during brief periods when the seeing settled down I made a rough sketch of the features that were visible. This included in the Southern Hemisphere Syrtis Major, Mare Serpentis, Mare Tyrrhenum, and Hellas which appeared bright. In the Northern Hemisphere the North Polar Hood clouds appeared gray in color. While observing the Red planet I used a Baader binocular viewer with TMB Super Monocentric eyepieces and the Baader Moon and Skyglow filter which enhances both surface and atmospheric detail.
I observed M 42 with the TMB 105mm f/6.2 at 22x. The central region appeared mottled with a pronounced blue color to it, and the four stars of the Trapezium were visible. Also the nebula extended up from the bat wings and on past the central region and the detail reminded me of some photographs I have seen of M 42. M 45 looked pretty also at 22x.
By far the prettiest view of the night was of Venus and Saturn, which were nicely resolved and easily fit into the same field of the TMB 105mm f/6.2 at 16x and 22x. Venus was strikingly white with a magnitude -4.5, almost 43% full, and a diameter of 28.16". Saturn's color was more subdued and much dimmer at magnitude 0.8 and had an equatorial diameter of 16.71". Nearby Titan and Rhea were visible. I last viewed these two planets through the same telescope last June when they were also within a few degrees of each other in the western sky after sunset. However back then my main concern was trying to avoid swarms of mosquitoes. This time my main concern was staying warm.
With Mars and Saturn favorably placed in the morning sky before sunrise I set up the TMB 130mm f/9.25 apo refractor on an alt-az mount to observe them. I used a Baader binocular viewer with TV 24mm Panoptics and TMB Super Monocentric eyepieces. Magnifications ranged between 85x - 204x.
It was a clear and cold with the limiting magnitude around 5.2. It was a nice morning to observe the constellations with Bootes, Ursa Major, Leo and Virgo were rising in the eastern sky, Cassiopeia, Cepheus, Draco and Ursa Minor were visible in the north, Orion, Canis Major, Taurus and Gemini were visible in the south, and Perseus and Andromeda were visible in the west.
I swung the scope over to observe M42 first. It appeared quite large with the "bat wings" along the bottom of the nebula visible, as well as the fan shaped nebulosity that extended from the bat wings up towards the top. In the central portion of M42 the color of the nebulosity was light blue, and six stars were visible in the Trapezium.
Mars, with a diameter of only 9.01", appeared small through the telescope. However it’s gibbous phase was well defined, and the North Polar Cap was bright. The seeing was only fair so while it was possible to see some dark surface markings visible near the terminator it was not possible to identify the features.
The seeing was similar for Saturn but with a diameter of 16.56" it was easier to see the detail. Also it appeared surprisingly large compared to Mars. However Saturn, at magnitude 1.0, appeared dimmer than Mars at magnitude 0.2.
The rings of Saturn were inclined approximately 4 degrees and cast a pronounced shadow on the southern portion of the globe. It was as striking view. The North Equatorial Zone appeared light yellow in color, while the Northern Hemisphere appeared greenish tan in color. The Southern Hemisphere appeared tan in color. Four moons were visible nearby including Tethys, Rhea, Dione, and Titan.
9:00 - 9:30 UT, seeing variable from 5 - 6 (fair to good), transparency 5.0.
TMB 175mm f/8 refractor on a homemade Dobsonian-style mount. Magnification 149x - 264x with Baader binoviewer. Filters used: none, Baader Moon & Skyglow filter.
In the above sketch the preceding limb is on the left, the following limb is on the right, south is at the top, and north is at the bottom. The North Polar Region is now tilted towards the Earth.
The southern portion of the globe had more of a green color to it, while the northern portion of the globe appeared bluer in color. The Equatorial Zone appeared light yellow in color, while the South Equatorial Belt had a light brown color to it.
The rings were open 2.9° giving them a delicate appearance. In addition the colors of Saturn's atmosphere seemed more pastel (softer) than when the rings are wider. The shadow of the globe was visible on the following (right hand side) of the rings. The rings cast a shadow on the front of the globe. It was a striking view of Saturn.
Four satellites were visible near Saturn including Rhea, Dione, Tethys, and Titan.
TMB 130mm (5.1") f/9.25 refractor on an alt-az mount. Magnification mostly 255x - 298x with Baader binoviewer. I briefly tried 341x - 409x but the seeing wouldn't support it. Filters used: none and Baader Moon & Skyglow filter.
In the above sketch the preceding limb is on the left, the following limb is on the right, south is at the top, and north is at the bottom. The North Polar Region is now tilted towards the Earth.
The South Polar Region appeared light blue green in color.
The North Equatorial Belt appeared light brown in color.
The Equatorial Zone appeared light yellow in color.
The North Polar Region (NPR) appeared green in color. The Saturn North Electrostatic Disturbance (NED) appeared as a light colored zone with an irregular outline in the NPR.
One of the advantages of long winter nights is that astronomical twilight starts late in the afternoon and continues into the next morning. Depending upon where you live this can mean twelve hours of darkness or more in which to observe. Also you don't always need a telescope to enjoy the view.
Another advantage for lunar observers is that the Moon passes higher overhead than it does during the summer months so it is up longer.
So when we had some clear weather recently I had the opportunity to observe the Moon and planets. For example with the Moon heading towards last quarter phase I watched it rise later and later each night in the east-northeastern sky, and then watch it set in the west-northwestern sky the following morning. On some nights I would wake up after midnight and watch it as rose behind the trees.
On another evening I observed Jupiter in the eastern sky and Venus in the western sky. On the following morning I woke up early and saw crescent Moon near Mercury in the southeastern sky, so I stepped outside for a better view. The sky was clear and the transparency was very good. The crescent Moon was in the constellations of Scorpius while Mercury was near by Ophiuchus. At magnitude -0.3 Mercury seemed quite bright.
Higher up the sky Saturn was in Virgo and at magnitude of 0.7 did not appear as bright as Mercury. Mars was nearby in Leo with a magnitude of 0.4.
In the western sky the winter constellations of Orion and Gemini were setting, while in the eastern sky spring and summer constellations of Cygnus, Lyra, and Hercules were rising.
It was a pleasant observing session, and fun to observe the Moon, Jupiter, Venus, Mercury, Mars and Saturn in a single night.
I set up the TMB 175mm f/8 apo refractor on it's homemade Dobsonian-style mount to observe Venus, Mars, and Saturn. The seeing was mostly fair so I used magnifications of 265x - 298x with the Baader binocular viewer and 1.7x corrector.
I used a Baader deep blue (W38A) and yellow (W25) filter for Venus, which seemed to help enhance the dusky appearance in clouds. It was similar to the last time I observed it but there were darker areas within the shading (like mottling) as well as lighter areas. These were not easy to represent in the sketch. The next morning I got up early and observed the last quarter Moon with the unaided eye. It reminded me of the view of Venus I had through the telescope the night before in terms of its phase as well as the dark lunar mare similar to shading in the atmosphere of Venus.
Mars, well past opposition, is getting pretty small. An orange filter helped to bring out the gibbous phase of Mars, as well as some surface features including the North Polar Cap, Lowell's Melt Band, Utopia, Mare Boreum, and Syrtis Major.
By the time I finished observing Mars high clouds began to drift across the sky and the seeing started to deteriorate so this made it harder to see the finer detail on Saturn. Still I was able to see the Equatorial Zone which had a light yellow color to it, the North Equatorial Belt that had a light brown color to it, and the North Polar Region that had a green color to it. The visibility of the Cassini Division came and went with the clouds and seeing.
At this point I got up from my observing chair to stretch and walk around. Looking up I noticed that Venus was quite bright and still high in the northwest sky, while Orion was in the southwestern sky. Normally when Orion is up it stands out as if to demand our attention. However this year Venus seems to be competing with Orion for our attention.
I set the TMB 130mm (5.1") f/9.25 refractor on an alt-mount to observe Jupiter now getting lower in the western sky, as well as Saturn, which is just past opposition. I used the Baader binocular viewer with a 1.7x corrector with magnifications of between 170x - 204x for Jupiter, and between 227x - 255x for Saturn. Filters used: none, Baader Moon & Skyglow filter.
Tonight the seeing was fair at best for Jupiter but I could still see the main equatorial belts and zones as well as the Polar Regions and the moons. It seemed like it was a long time ago when I made my first telescopic observations of Jupiter for this opposition back on July 10th, 2012.
The seeing was somewhat better for Saturn but it was still mostly fair and settled down to good once in a while. The North Polar Region appeared gray in color, while the North Equatorial Belt appeared brown in color. The North Equatorial Zone was yellow in color. The South Polar Region had a bluish color to it.
The Cassini Division was visible on both ansa of the rings, and, as Saturn was just past opposition there was no shadow of the globe on the rings.
Some of Saturn’s moons were visible including Tethys, Dione, Rhea, and Titan.
When I began observing the fall and winter constellations were setting in the west, while the spring constellations were high in the southern sky. By the time I was finishing up observing the session the summer constellations were climbing into the eastern sky. It seemed possible to see most of the constellations in a single observing session.
The Saturn Nomenclature page has information on how to identify features in Saturn's atmosphere including belts, zones and the rings.