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SATURN 2015

Note:               Most of the 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.

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“SOMERSAULTING SATURNS”

These images are a testament to the rapid advances in planetary imaging cameras, which we have been very fortunate to be at the forefront of with each new model given to us to test before their public release by the world’s premier planetary imaging camera manufacturer: ZWOptical.

The image below was taken not long after the mono ASI174MM camera became available whilst the image above was taken shortly after the colour ASI224MC camera came out: both captured superb detail on Saturn with the bottom image captured only 3&1/2 weeks before opposition, the prime time for imaging any planet…..the image above taken 6&1/2 weeks after opposition, when the planet was starting to become a little more difficult to image.

Because the image above was taken at a slightly less advantageous time & also because the seeing conditions were not quite as good as those for the below image, it really is a testament to this new colour camera’s capabilities!!!

CLICKON THE IMAGES FOR FULL SCALE

(may need to click again if cursor displays magnifying symbol)

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A few weeks can be quite a long time in today’s amazing technical world…particularly when it comes to camera sensors! ;)

The 6 images below were all taken with a new colour camera kindly given to us by Sam Wen of ZWO to test & help him to sort out any bugs, before going on general sale.

Colour cameras use filters that are “manufactured” as part of the sensor during the production process – in this case by Sony - & although they are usually capable of good results (which I have shown elsewhere on this site) they are not considered to be as good as mono cameras where we use external filters in a “filter wheel” - & they do not have the filter flexibility of the mono, where we can employ special “iR” (infra-red) or other types of filters also…

However, this new colour camera – the ASI224MC – is so sensitive to very low levels of light & also produces such low “noise” levels  (noise looks similar to poor reception on a television & degrades images) that it creates colour (rgb) images of the planets rivalling any from the currently available mono cameras…& creating a colour result straight away is much simpler/easier to operate & process!

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The image above was taken using a larger section of the camera’s sensor than what we would normally use: all of the cameras we possess have the ability for us to choose just how much of the sensor we use…this is termed “ROI” or region of interest.

With this feature we can use only a small section of the camera’s sensor or a range of sections increasingly larger, right up to the full sensor size/area: the advantage of using smaller ROI’s is that we can apply much faster frame rates for the videos we capture…although even when using the “Full Frame” or “Maximum ROI” the frames per second (frame rate) can still be pretty fast/high!

Using a large ROI for the above image enabled us to catch quite a few of Saturn’s major moons, 6 in fact!

Of special interest is Saturn’s largest moon Titan (& the 2nd largest in our Solar System after Jupiter’s Ganymede) – it is at the top left in the image & appears as a pale yellowish disk…even at the incredible distance Titan is from us it still can be seen as a small disk!

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The image to the left is a “North Polar Projection” of the image above, taken on July 6th 2015.

As explained earlier these NPP’s are created using a special software program (WinJupos) to turn a “normal” image of a planet into an image that reveals what it would look like if viewed from above one of the poles (North or South, in this case the North Pole due to how the planet is presenting itself to us on Earth these days…)

In both images we see that this colour camera has picked up an incredible amount of detail, there are plenty of white spot (cyclones) & dark spots (anti-cyclones) as well as some spots inside the bizarre hexagonal feature situated at Saturn’s North Pole!

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More images (above & below) from the ASI224MC colour camera showing just how sensitive it is: it is quite a while since Saturn’s opposition (ie, when it was nearest to Earth & most “photogenic”) & the weather here in South Australia has entered the very Wintery period…clouds & mist are common during the night when imaging & this is one situation where a colour camera can be quite superior to a mono camera.

This is because these are also times when the “seeing” (see earlier comments) can fluctuate quite rapidly, going from good to bad & back again quite erratically: when using a mono camera you might (for example) record a good red & green filter capture but when it comes time to capture the blue filter video, clouds blot out the view of the planet, or the seeing becomes horrid!

Whilst there are ways to lessen this sort of problem (WinJupos used in a different way to the NPP’s) a colour camera is taking all the information in red, green & blue at the same time so that if anything forces you to stop capturing your video at any time, you still have all the data you need to (hopefully!) create a good end-image! J

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Just the 2nd time out with the new ASI224MC colour camera in the image below: after the first night just getting to work out how to set the various controls (especially the colour controls to achieve a good colouration in the images) we made this image that reveals quite a lot of detail on the surface of Saturn & convinced us that this camera really was a valuable tool to create rgb (colour) images of the planets, especially so as the further into the year (& Winter) we go the harder it is to pick up these sorts of details on Saturn, regardless of the type of camera used!

This says a lot about this colour camera & although it will not replace the mono cameras with their ability to be used with special filters it will become a very useful tool in our array of equipment…one can only imagine what might be possible if this particular colour camera’s sensor becomes available as a mono sensor, or another sensor with similar performance comes out as a mono unit! J

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These images were taken on 22nd May (the following night from those further down)

Of especial interest is the peculiar feature in the inner rings. (inside the black Cassini Division/Gap – in what is termed the “B-ring”)

This feature is the "squiggly" dark line...at present we have no idea what caused this phenomenon: Saturn's Rings can display various features that may be the result of some of its inner moons creating "ripples" etc in the Ring System & there is also the possibility of collisions with meteors etc which can cause disruption to their appearance...but we await possible explanations from people much more expert in these matters than ourselves..! ;)

You can see it in the animation/avi where it is by the red line markers (clicking on the 3rd image below)...it moves/rotates as Saturn & its' rings rotate.

NOTE: If you get an error message re the Codec when trying to play the animation, click on this link: http://www.videohelp.com/software/Ut-Video-Codec-Suite and click on “Download Ut Video Codec Suite 15.2.0 (direct link)” to download the “utvideo-15.2.0-win.exe” file. Double click on the downloaded file and follow the default prompts in the Setup Wizard to install the Codec

The larger you make these images using your web browser’s magnifier the more pronounced this wavy line/feature is…

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Very good imaging/seeing conditions on Thursday 21st (UT) May allowed us to capture very high resolution images of the storm & "disturbance" or "rift" I previously referred to in Saturn's Northern latitudes...

We were able to record numerous red-green-blue video sequences & as a result obtained our clearest images to date of this phenomenon.

It appears as if a large dark spot (an anti-cyclone) has formed or developed rapidly in this region & what appears to look like a "wake" trailing back from said storm in an opposite direction to the planet's rotational motion...

Numerous bright spots (cyclones) & dark spots (anti-cyclones) are in near-adjacent areas...

We have included an "inverted Image" here of the colour (rgb) image - this type of image is interesting in itself but also shows the dark spots (anti-cyclones) on Saturn's disk much more clearly….. (please click on these images for full scale J)

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The images below we captured over 3 nights in the week (May 14th local date)– we are quite excited about them & there is the promise that in one or both of the next 2 nights when we imaged that there might be better images! J

The most interesting aspect of these images is perhaps best revealed in the map we created using WinJupos software which displays the North Pole of Saturn as if from above. This particular image is an infrared image using a specific infrared filter during image recording.

Here we see an interesting “rift” or “bite” in the dark section surrounding the (darker still) North Polar hexagon – this rift has apparently been imaged by others from my search of image galleries but it seems that no-one has identified it clearly before as such…or at least we have not heard so! ;)

One imager did identify it as a “dark spot” (anti-cyclone) which conforms to the latitude & longitude of this rift’s largest “bite” section & in less clear images it could have been mistaken as a dark spot… we have no idea how it actually started to form at the moment & await professional appraisal…if you look at the red channel image & animation you will see quite a few largish bright & dark spots (cyclones & anti-cyclones) very close to this “bite” so it may well be that this region’s storm activities are an aspect of this rift either as a cause or effect..?

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Click on the images above & below to achieve the full sizes…

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These images were captured from home on the morning of 29th April 2015. (Local time)

The new ASI174MM camera is proving to be an excellent planetary imaging camera & this probably surpasses our previous "best" Saturn image. (Saturn.htm - Possible_best_image.)

There are numerous storm spots on the globe/disk in both the colour (rgb) & mono/black & white red channel images.

"Opposition" - when the planet is closest to Earth & theoretically in its best position for capturing images! - is in just under 3 week’s time so we can only hope that we get some nice seeing in the coming weeks...

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The image above is an “r-rgb” image – these are images where we use the “r” or red channel of a colour (rgb) image “over the top” of the basic rgb/colour image. Because the r channel of images we capture is usually the most detailed, by “doubling it up” on the image so to speak we often end up creating one where the details (that are there anyway) are enhanced!

You can see by comparing it with the image below (a “normal” rgb/colour image) & you will see that the details are enhanced, the purpose of using the red channel twice here…using it as what is termed a “luminance” channel. J

Down in the bottom right hand corner of the r-rgb image above is a small image of Saturn taken almost exactly 6 years earlier. (20th April 2009)

This was the very first image we ever captured of Saturn – you can see that the planet is orientated such that the rings appear almost edge on…this is how Saturn appeared from Earth in 2009. (see this)

When we took the video in 2009 we were using a 6” “achromatic” refractor & a webcam made for a computer, the Toucam 840k. These webcams would record videos mainly at 5 frames per second – a far cry from the ASI174MM’s 198 frames per second we now employ…leaving aside the huge sensitivity increase of this modern camera..!

The “seeing” was actually very good that night despite the small telescope & webcam camera: in the little image you can see up to 9 separate bands on Saturn’s disk as well as glimpses of the Cassini Division on the ends of the rings - & importantly the shadow of Saturn’s giant moon Titan near the bottom left of the disk, projected thereon by this moon which appears as the little “star” further out to the left & lower down…at that time not only did the rings of Saturn appear edge-on but from Earth the alignment allowed us to see moon & shadow transits across Saturn’s disk!

It might surprise people to learn that this little image was probably the hardest we have ever had to process!!! (from the aforementioned video capture we took at the time)

This is because the 6” achromatic telescope we used back then was not very good at reproducing colour correctly: the Toucam was a colour webcam & besides not having used it before to image Saturn the colours that came out of it were quite weird!(there are red & blue controls in the crude webcam controls, but we were completely ignorant of how to set them correctly!)

Because of these strange colours – in those days I had very little “post-processing” experience – I could never convert the weirdly-coloured Saturn we obtained from the webcam to anything like the real appearance of Saturn! L

But I re-processed this weirdly-coloured Saturn just before posting it here: this is an example of our progress in processing experience as much as the large, recent images are examples of our general imaging skills – but being honest, turning this little old image into something that has a reasonable resemblance to what Saturn actually looked like at the time was by far the hardest processing job I can remember..! J

Click on the above image for a short video (animation) put together from 3 separate r-rgb/colour images using the "r-rgb" method to enhance details: you will notice that there are numerous bright & dark spots that move with the passage of time between each image in this animation - this is a good way to tell if those "spots" are really storms on Saturn's "surface" (actually its' upper atmosphere) or merely what are called artefacts. (artefacts are quite common in planetary images due to the very challenging conditions they are taken under, as well as the extensive processing methods we use to obtain the final image outcomes!)

NOTE: If you get an error message re the Codec when trying to play the animation, go to this link: http://www.videohelp.com/software/Ut-Video-Codec-Suite and click on “Download Ut Video Codec Suite 15.2.0 (direct link)” to download the “utvideo-15.2.0-win.exe” file. Double click on the downloaded file and follow the default prompts in the Setup Wizard to install the Codec

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If you look in the top left-hand corner of the colour image above (best viewed in full scale image!) you will see an image displaying a set of concentric rings: this is a star near Saturn which is de-focused to create this effect. We "fine-tune" the telescope by adjusting the tilt of the secondary mirror (this has 3 adjustment screw-knobs on its' back)  & watching the onscreen image carefully as we make small adjustments to these screws until that defocused star has those rings as uniform in brightness & as concentric within each other in appearance as possible. When we do this to the best of our ability in the situation we are in we then turn the telescope to the planet to focus, set the camera controls & start capturing videos.

That top L.H. image is actually a stack made from a captured video of that de-focused star...remember, this looks considerably better than how it appears onscreen when we are doing this fine tuning! This is important to consider because how well-defined the rings on the onscreen image of the de-focused star appear gives us a very good appraisal of the "seeing" or imaging conditions at the time - nice, clearly visible & defined rings on the laptop screen mean we can really tune the scope very well to achieve that aforementioned uniformity & concentricity - & also that we are likely to obtain very good videos & thus final images! J

So when we look at the image in the L.H. corner we know that it was a "reasonable" outcome. (remembering it looks way better than what we actually had to deal with "live" on the laptop screen because it is a video stack)

What this actually says is that the seeing was "fairly good" but not "very good" or "excellent" - so we know that with a lot of luck a night of "very good" seeing will deliver us even better images with our telescope & this new camera...so here's hoping we get that type of seeing..! J

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Of course when the seeing conditions are "poor" that defocused star just looks like a terribly hazy mess on the laptop screen...in those circumstances (which are quite often!) we just pack everything up & give it a miss..! L

Here are images of Saturn imaged from Orroroo in South Australia's Mid/Upper North region on the morning of April 22nd 2015.

Careful examination of the two images below (particularly if you click on them to show the full size image) reveals numerous bright & dark spots – these are storm features in the upper atmosphere of this "Gas Giant" planet.

Both the inner (nearer the planet's globe) & outer elements of the "C" ring are visible, the outer displaying the beautiful pale bluish tint that is part of its' appearance.

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Below I deliberately created an image where I captured a greater area of the background space around the planet so that I could be certain that 5 of Saturn's moons that were huddled around the planet at that particular time would be part of the final image's composition: here they are in 2 identical images with the 2nd image displaying their names. J (again best if you click on them to show the full size image)

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Finally, below is displayed 2 red-channel (mono) images that reveal some of the aforementioned storm details on the globe/disk...

I was asked very recently why we keep on capturing images of the same thing over & over..! J

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Apart from all of the other aspects I mentioned about travelling around, sitting out there under an ever-changing night sky & everything else that happens around us during the night the images provide valuable information from both an informative & educative perspective to organisations & individuals around the world...& of course there is the sense of satisfaction in creating consistently high quality images from a personal viewpoint.

Even though to many viewers one Saturn might very well appear similar to the next, if you look at these images carefully you will see that there are differences between each & also some little details that are the same but in different positions in each one taken at different times during the night - as would be expected with a rotating planet! (this is a very good way of confirming whether small details are actually real...).

March 2015 images of Saturn: the “seeing” was no more than “reasonable” for these images…in the new “Image Processing” section we will include images of various software & the videos we capture which will graphically illustrate why we make the sorts of appraisals we do of the seeing during said video captures. J

This “super-sized” Saturn image (click on it for the super-sized version) again suggests to us that this camera is a real winner…so far this year we have not had what we term “good seeing” but the details & general image outcomes make me feel this camera is a further improvement from ZW Optical…

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The same colour (rgb) image as the ones above at slightly smaller scale but including two infrared mono (b&w) images from two different infrared filters. “Infrared” encompasses a fairly wide range of wavelengths of light (see here) & each filter shows some details better than others…in the two ir images below you can see quite a few bright & dark spots - also noting that the banding upon the disk is very clear.

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3 nights & up for most of the night – 2 passable rgb (colour) images of Saturn plus 2 very satisfying mono (b&w) images & a pretty decent mono (infra-red) Jupiter…..that was the return for all those sleepless hours! J

Of course it might have been much worse – nothing at all - & this has happened plenty of times! L

The frustrating part of these 3 nights was that there were several more images that revealed good detail but despite every trick in my processing books I couldn’t get a satisfactory colour outcome for them…coloured tinges in the rings or somewhat sickly colours etc: this can often result from a type of seeing but when all is said & done you just chalk these up to how things can turn out & hope the next marathon sessions return more images that are up to standard. However, there is still quite a lot of detail if one studies this image & those below carefully! J

This infra-red image of Saturn was a good outcome, revealing many of the subtle bands on Saturn’s disk..! Quite a lot of other detail can be seen including the dark “vortex” at the dead centre of the “Polar Hex” right at Saturn’s top – best seen in the full-scale image. J

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With the seeing generally poor, even on the first “good” night we opted at one stage to capture a 6 minute video of Saturn using only the red filter…normally when opting for rgb/colour captures we spend about 2 minutes on each channel – 6 minutes total timespan is about the limit for Saturn before the rapid rotation of the planet causes “rotational blurring” much like that seen when people move when having their photograph taken!

Using the full 6 minutes with one filter (as we did in the ir image above this) meant we captured a lot more video frames & could really be “picky” J about those we chose to stack & process further…this certainly helped us create a very nicely-banded Saturn “in red light.”J

The images below were taken on 26th February 2015, the 2nd time out with the new ZW Optical ASI174MM that Sam Wen (ZWO's Managing Director) has kindly given us for testing & use.

The conditions were (possibly) better for these images than those for the first "test" of this new camera (see top image in "Saturn Section" of website)

We also had a bit more understanding of some of the various camera capabilities as far as the type of data it outputs with various settings plus some more familiarity with the new version of Firecapture. (the freeware image capture program)

Having said that we have since learnt more still about this camera & capture program...we are still limited to some degree because my old laptop "died" some time ago & we rely on Pat's laptop to do the capturing but unfortunately it is only just adequate for the job.

...when we are able to afford a new laptop we hope there might be more improvements in the image outcomes - as well as (possibly!) getting some very nice "seeing weather" to assist us further..! :)

Regardless, the images turned out very well & Saturn is showing a lot of detail on its disk in both the colour (rgb) & mono red channel images here, always a sign of good imaging outcomes!

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