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Sun, Moon & Miscellaneous



SATURN 2011-2014

Saturn is the planet that nearly everyone recognises even if they know almost nothing about astronomy, its beautiful ring system creating a magnificent spectacle along with the pale banded disk - one of the most enduring experiences of the heavens you can have when seeing it through a telescope - or even on a laptop screen when imaging!!!

Note:               All images on this page are "clickable" and will open up as "full scale images" in a new tab.
                        Depending on the size of your monitor you may have to click again on this image to enlarge it.
                        All the images should respond favourably to the use of the "zoom" tool of your browser page if
                        you want to up the scale further!


This image (above) is the first taken with the new ASI174MM camera on 18th February 2015 – Sam from ZW Optical has generously given one to us for testing & general use.

Despite being completely unfamiliar with it & a very new image capture program this new camera came up trumps with the first outing…hopefully a sign of things to come..! J

I have chosen as one of the first images on this page a 7-image composition of some of the best results from 2011 to 2017 because this set displays those rings & an amazing aspect of their appearance seen from down here on Mother Earth - as our viewing plane alters over time Saturn appears to go through an (approx.) 18-year cycle where the rings are seen edge-on (and appear like a thin blade slicing the planet's disk) through to a perspective where we are "looking down from above" so to speak & can see the full majesty of the ring system encircling Saturn's globe...this cycle includes one period where we "look down" upon the North Pole of Saturn (as we do at present) to where the whole process reverses & then we can "look down" on the South Pole of the planet...here you can see Saturn in 2011 at the top, the year after the rings appeared edge on to us with the bottom (6th) image taken in late June 2016 as we "look down" upon Saturn's North Pole.

If you look down in the bottom right corner you will see a small image of our world, the planet Earth - this is a scale comparison showing the difference in size between our world & Saturn..!

The planet's rings will continue to "open up" for some time (2017) then begin the reverse aspect of the cycle described previously...this "cycle" being in fact the seasonal tilt of Saturn...if (say) the North Pole is tilted towards the Sun then it is "summer" there for that hemisphere. A curious aspect of Saturn's appearance is that when the North Pole is tilted towards the Sun (as it is now) then the planet appears brighter than if the South Pole was such...

Something I should point out to viewers is the colour of the planet itself: Saturn appears to alter its' colouration and some of this is of course to do with the specific equipment used and the camera settings...some with the weather conditions here on Earth when we image...some regarding "how high in the sky" the planet is when imaged...some to do with the aforementioned "tilt" perspective which dictates the angle that the Sun's light is falling on Saturn...some with how near or far the planet is from opposition...some possibly something to do with the planet's altering appearance itself...& finally, quite a lot to do with the processing applications when creating the end-image! Saturn is brighter (as are the rings) around opposition and at each opposition (ie, when the planet is "nearest" to the Earth) its brightness & apparent size varies.


I make the point because you will see as you look through the images this varying colour outcome: for this 6-set composition I endeavoured to make each single image as near as possible to the next colour-wise but this can be very difficult & time-consuming: viewed as the complete collection you will notice that the planet's colour appears to fall into a generally limited set of variations but some images might have "extended colour saturation" to highlight certain aspects - this is a common practice for both amateurs & professionals! J

Even more demanding are the animations where we use multiple images taken during one night’s imaging to create a revolving planet complete with moons that rotate around them (mostly just a portion of their orbits unless we use several night’s sets of images…) We will add some of these animations as the site develops. J

Using images from different nights/dates is much more demanding re colour-compatibility – and harder again if the images are years apart..! J


However I have made a reasonable outcome with the 6 image composition turned into animations (the black & white one below, was much easier!)


Lastly before I present the individual images, remember that Saturn is actually 1.2 Billion kilometres from Planet Earth when it is at its closest..!!!

The first image here is (obviously!) a mono (black & white) image but it is in reality an infra-red image of Saturn: as mentioned previously these can reveal details that aren't necessarily evident in colour images. Using these types of filters can also help when the seeing conditions are poorer.

This image was actually taken after the Sun had risen (ie, in daylight) but it is an image that reveals many bright & dark spots (storms) if you study it carefully... unfortunately this was the only image we could take that particular morning. (February 11th 2015) Being able to capture more than one image enables the professional folks who study our images to determine exactly "what's what" & record the storms to watch their future progress...



A Saturn image in full rgb colour captured on 31st January 2015. Careful examination will reveal a number of bright & dark spots (the cyclones & anti-cyclones referred to above.)

A large dark spot is seen in the first dark band below the Polar region (ie, the North Polar Hexagon) & a pair of bright spots a bit less than halfway down & almost on the Central Meridian ("CM" - an imaginary line of longitude running right through the disk's centre from pole to pole - part of the longitudinal reference grid similar to those for our Earth.)

Here we see the first colour (rgb) image of Saturn for this year from us, taken on January 21st 2015. This image is the combination of 2  rgb images, the 2nd rgb set taken when the Sun was almost up & the sky was very bright, making it even more difficult to get a good colour balance - but the result of combining 2 rgb sets meant that a bright spot can be easily seen in the Northern Hemisphere.

Bright (cyclonic) & dark (anticyclonic) spots are storms raging in Saturn's visible upper atmosphere...cyclonic meaning storms rotating in the same direction as the planet's rotation, & vice-versa for anti-cyclones: their bright or dark appearance generated by the types of atmospheric gases they stir up from below in their activity. These storms can appear & disappear very quickly or in other cases be very long-lived



This image is the result of combining the 2 red channel recordings from the image above - obviously not using the green & blue channels. (colour images are created by combining recordings of the planets in red, green & blue channels using specific filters for each)

In this "R"  image (termed a "mono" image) we see a prominent dark spot almost located on the CM.

Taken on a night of very good "seeing" or steady weather conditions on the 5th June 2014. (very little wind at ground level or in the much higher jet-streams)

The banding on the disk which essentially displays the various major weather systems or prevailing winds is very clearly defined in this image...as mentioned previously colour saturation is extended in this image to reveal these bands in all their glory! J



Another night of good seeing for this image taken a week earlier than the one above on 31st May 2014...J

...and another nice imaging opportunity 2 days earlier again on 29th May 2014: weather patterns are usually consistent over several days/nights as most people would appreciate (ie, it's not hot, then cold, then hot etc) so this usually means for planetary imaging we will often get a run of a few good days or even weeks, particularly at certain times of the year...such as the case with this bracket of 6 images from 12th May to 5th June 2014.



Going back 9 days earlier to the 20th May 2014 we managed to catch another good image where the disk banding stood out well...

Yet another in this run of good seeing/imaging opportunities: this one particularly notable in that the "C" ring - also known as the Crepe Ring - is very prominent: this much fainter inner ring is made of smaller (tiny, in fact) particles & is less dense than the "A" ring (outermost) or the "B" ring (the ring inside the "A" ring & separated by the narrower black band called the Cassini Division.) This "C" ring reveals here that it, like the "A" & "B" rings is also made up of various divisions.

Mentioning the Cassini Division, it can be seen that where this ring (actually a division in the rings) passes across the front of Saturn's disk it is far "less black." This is because it is actually a transparent gap in the rings & we see "black space" through it in most of its' length...but in front of the rings you are actually seeing Saturn's disk through it...hence the lighter colour there.



The first in the sequence of 6 good imaging nights, this on the 12th of May & another very satisfying outcome!

A full month earlier than the above image (& sometimes we have to wait longer than a month for a good imaging occasion!) this image also reveals plenty of spots (storms) on careful examination.

One to look for is on that "CM" mentioned previously but right at the top of the disk just below the dark North Polar hexagon...in fact right next to & just below one of the "points" of said hexagon on that imaginary central longitudinal (CM) line: storms in these "high polar" latitudes of Saturn are much rarer & a point of interest to professionals.



A week earlier again & another nice Saturn image where various storm spots can be seen when studied carefully...

There was a 3 week break between this image & the one above...this is often the case & then you might get a few good nights & image results in a row or over a week or two.



That lighter/bright spot high in the North Polar latitudes was visible here & is probably the same one in the image 41 days later. (3 images up)

Storms will often "drift" or move about on the planet so it is important to be able to follow a storm over time & plot its co-ordinates to determine any such drift...

This was the earliest Saturn image from 2014 & considering that it was several months before opposition (when it is nearest, appears the largest & also brightest) it turned out very nice indeed. (taken on 22nd February 2014)



Wind back almost a year to April 15th 2013 for this image showing a very prominent dark spot on the disk in the upper right...also 4 of Saturn's Moons. (clockwise from bottom left: Dione, Enceladus, Tethys & Mimas)

Capturing the moons of Saturn isn't particularly difficult, but there are a few more steps required in processing the raw captures to reveal them: except for Titan they are all relatively small & not terribly bright. I try to process them so that they appear as they would if you were actually looking through a telescope with your eyes, that is as bright little points of light or very tiny disks, depending upon their individual sizes.

Another very good night with an image taken very near our home. (we often travel 100 - 200km for better weather/seeing/imaging conditions..)

On this particular night (April 5th 2013) we increased the magnification of the planet using a special sliding tube I personally designed & constructed (shades of David Unaipon! J).

With this tube extended, which forms a section in the focuser > lens > filters > camera system assembly (referred to as "the imaging train") the telescope's effective magnification (or "image scale" because it increases the size/scale of the image! J) is increased: this is something we can do on certain good imaging nights.



The night before that of the image above...again a dark spot (anti-cyclonic storm) is quite visible on the disk.

This is possibly the best image we have ever captured of Saturn, on March 25th 2013, when you consider the surface detail resolution from a single r-g-b sequence colour image.

The weather & atmosphere was very stable & when we started taking videos the images in the various filters looked good (nice & sharp/clear) on the laptop screen. About halfway through the night however, there was a noticeable "spike" in the appearance of an already very good onscreen image & this set of r, g & b videos were the best in those enhanced imaging conditions.

You can clearly see numerous bright spots, clouds & dark spots, with some delicate divisions between the various bands on the planet also... There are two moons visible - Tethys at top right & Mimas at bottom right (best seen in the “full scale image”).

These are the types of conditions everyone hopes for..!




The two images above represent something we had not seen from any other amateur imagers before, although the space orbiters (eg Cassini) had provided many very high resolution images of this region...

I wanted to use Photoshop software to see what sort of 360 degrees view I could make of Saturn's North Pole & Hexagon...it required using images collected over several nights & they were difficult to "stitch together" very well because Saturn's appearance changes from day-to-day meaning stitching them together produced problems... L

However I am reasonably satisfied with these outcomes in rgb colour as well as mono (b&w) & the "NP Hex" comes out very nicely imho..! J


There was a 6 week gap between getting this image & the next one above...this "waiting period" is all too common for people who have to wait for the weather to "play ball." L

Here we also see some very nice disk detail with a very prominent large dark spot evident: this is also another image where I processed to reveal some Saturnian Moons...in this case 4 (best again seen in the “full scale image”) From left to right Enceladus, Dione, Mimas & Tethys strung out around the planet itself.

This is the image that first revealed the bizarre North Polar Hexagon of Saturn from an amateur scope world-wide.

It is presented with another of those "Polar Projections" which is a map created by software from a normal image to give us a view where we look down on the North Pole - the hexagonal shape of the dark polar region is readily seen & was the evidence that convinced the skeptics that we had achieved this remarkable (at the time) achievement - of course the result is readily achieved now such is the remarkable pace of progress in this field! J

The disk of Saturn also reveals quite a bit of detail & again we see 4 moons strung out around "Mother" Saturn: interestingly this image almost never happened because we were halfway through fine-tuning the scope before imaging when we noticed clouds racing in from the West...we decided to start shooting an r-g-b video then & there - luckily for us we got one set in for this exciting achievement before the sky was clouded out permanently for the night!



This image was taken 8 months earlier than the one above & was one of very few good images we captured in 2012 - this really shows what hard grafting this occupation requires!!!

A couple of white spots can be seen in the pale bluish band on the upper part of Saturn's disk...

This image is also used in the 5-image composition at the top of this webpage showing the changing tilt of Saturn's rings over the period from 2011 to 2015.

As such it was processed so that the colour-appearance resembled the other 4 images in that composition for uniformity. (see top of page for further info about this aspect)

Saturn's moon Rhea is seen close by & to the upper left of this giant, ringed planet.

This image also shows the enormous "Dragon Storm" that raged on Saturn during its most active period in 2011...such storms are very infrequent but several have been recorded over the last hundred years or so, possibly suggesting some cyclical nature.

The white turbulent cloud structures on the planet's disk in the upper half of the top portion of Saturn is the Dragon Storm...



Here is a 3-image composite of Saturn taken during the height of the Dragon Storm's activity between March & June 2011 & displaying the original colour-rendering/processing results: as with the 2 images above these, we used a smaller scope & different camera to capture the images...

Also, these images are displayed with the South Pole of Saturn at the top (ie, they are reversed, ie "upside-down" in comparison to all the other images above) - this is a scientific convention & how we submit all our images to professional organisations...

In each image there is one or more of Saturn's moons displayed, & the Dragon Storm shows up very nicely...the top image showing how it looked with it's nucleus/core/most active region & the turbulent aftermath streaming out in 2 major columns from this area..

The 2nd image shows the changes approximately 1 month later with the 3rd (bottom) image showing that this storm was still raging another 2 months further on - but significantly dissipated over a much wider area of the planet in comparison to the 1st image...


The colour-rendering of these 3 images does vary considerably from all the others on this page…in this instance these images were all taken with a different telescope & camera & are also earlier processing examples of our “craft” – apart from the preceding image above that I needed to alter for both the 5-image ring tilt composition & the colour animation for consistency I decided I would not adjust the colouration of these… J


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