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INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF ASTRONOMY 2009: SATURN AND TITAN

I have been trying to produce regular articles on 'Wyenot News' to commemorate this year being the International Year of Astronomy, which is also coincidentally my personal interest and last night decided that it might be nice to take a look at the Planet, Saturn and its moon Titan. Saturn, with its system of rings is undoubtedly the prettiest object in the night sky but at the moment it is not easy to see them as they are currently edge on to us.

My evening of astronomy started badly. After what had been a beautifully clear day with blue skies, I set up the telescope - a job which takes about half an hour - with the planet clearly in view. I switched the laptop computer which I use for filming on and plugged in the camera. Immediately, the area of the sky containing Saturn, a bright moon and an orange street lamp clouded over for a further half an hour. Eventually I saw a gap in the cloud heading towards the planet and so got my fingers in position on the computer's mouse pad to start filming and the damned thing crashed. By the time I managed to reboot, Saturn was behind a further half hour's worth of cloud.

Determined not to give in, I waited around in the balmy 2 degree C. evening air and eventually the planet emerged into a clear sky. I am so glad that I did! Saturn's ring system is only a matter of a few miles wide and supposedly very difficult to see when they are edge on to Earth but, at a distance of over 7 billion miles, my 8 inch telescope picked them out perfectly. To be honest, I was astounded at how clear they appeared. They are easy to see when the planet is tilted but I just could not believe being able to see them edge on.

Below are a couple of photos which I managed to stack from the video I filmed, plus one in which I deliberately over exposed the planet so that the moon, Titan would be picked up. Titan in itself is an interesting world - more like a planet than a moon. It has an atmosphere very similar to primeval Earth and is a prime contender for sustaining life.

You can also watch the short film I made of the planet, using live, on screen shots, actual film from the astro imager and still photos from the resulting stacked video.

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The planet, Saturn, photographed from Ross on 12th, February 2009 at 00.02 hours GMT. 8 inch Schmidt Cassegrain Telescope, 2000 mm at f10.

In this slightly earlier exposure, shot just prior to midnight, at 23.53 hours, Saturn was intermittently being obscured by cloud cover but the rings are still visible.

At the end of the viewing session, I upped the exposure, deliberately over exposing the planet so that I could photograph Saturn's largest moon, Titan (to the right).

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