The moon and Saturn tonight

April 19, 2010

It was almost freakishly clear and calm here in Claremont this evening. My friend and fellow blogger Andy Farke came over and we spent some time looking up.  First target was the waxing crescent moon. Here in town, the seeing is often so bad that at anything over 100x, the image looks like it is under a rippling sheet of water. But tonight we were able to push on to 240x with no problems. I’d say the effects of seeing (atmospheric turbulence) didn’t start to be noticeable until 120x and even at 240x it wasn’t a dealbreaker.

Here’s Mare Nectaris and vicinity (click for the larger, unlabeled version). The line of craters formed by Theophilus, Cyrillus, and Catharina is an easy catch in binoculars at this phase. The Altai Scarp is an immense range of cliffs, hundreds of miles long. Mare Nectaris formed as a multi-ringed impact basin, much like the Chicxulub crater from the “dinosaur-killer” asteroid, and the Altai Scarp is the largest surviving stretch of one of the outer rings.

We had a look at Mars, which was a well-defined disc with hints–and only hints–of detail. I suspected the ice cap from time to time, but couldn’t convince myself that I’d really seen it, as opposed to just thinking the disc looked lighter where I know the ice cap ought to be. Still, a whole ‘nuther planet, y’know? Give me a telescope and a world to point it at and I get a little giddy.

The real treat of the evening was Saturn. At 120x it was crisp and jewel-like, but at 240x it was simply astounding. I have never seen so much detail in one of my own telescopes. The photo is by far my best ever for Saturn, but it just doesn’t do it justice, not by a long shot. The whole planet was striped with pastel bands, and we could clearly see the gap between the rings and the planet. The dark band stretching across the disc is the shadow of the rings. Three moons shone out proudly to the left of the rings; Stellarium informs me that they were Dione, Rhea, and Titan, from inward to out. After Andy left I even caught little Enceladus–she of the geysers–between Dione and the rings.

I also cruised over to the globular cluster M3 and it was very nice, a contained explosion of stars. It looked better than I’ve ever seen it, which is saying something since the moon was out. Most DSOs don’t suffer unduly from bad seeing since they are extended and dim to begin with, but globs do. I’m half-tempted to haul out the scope again and have a look at M13, which ought to be up now, but I have to sleep sometime. Good night, and clear skies.

Photos taken with a Nikon Coolpix 4500 digital camera, shooting through an Orion SkyQuest XT10 telescope and Orion Stratus eyepieces.


  1. Awesome photo of Saturn!

  2. wow, makes me want to invest in a telescope now!
    thanks for sharing these!


  3. Great site. Hope it will get people more interested in the Cosmos. Have you read ‘In the Beginning,’ by John Gribbin? That book will want to make anybody get a telescope, or at least, powerful binoculars. We have the sky over Barbados above us, and don’t allow any outside lights.

  4. Love the picture of Saturn! How cool to get that from your own telescope! 🙂

  5. Thanks, all, for the kind words. Since I didn’t give any details in the post about how I took the pictures, here you go: I used my old Nikon Coolpix 4500 in macro mode, shooting through a 17mm Yulin Plossl eyepiece (for the moon) and a 13mm Orion Stratus eyepiece and an Orion Shorty 2x Barlow lens (for Saturn), in an Orion SkyQuest XT10 reflecting telescope. See this post for more detailed instructions.

    Also, if you’re thinking about buying a telescope, bang on! But save yourself some trouble and read this first.

  6. Nice pictures of space, our planets and moon.
    You don’t need a fancy telescope to see stars, instead you can download programs that let you do that for free.


  7. nice photos

  8. This is what I love abt checking out other people’s blogs- you always learn something new! Great pics!

  9. I love the night sky. Thanks for these thrilling shots.

  10. Thanks for sharing…Great blog 🙂

  11. What a shame that so few of us see the stars any more, so few of us even know their names, or what constellation they belong to. Most of us have lost the pagan touch into the real world. Now, with all our brilliant, cold, man made light,you can only appreciate the true beauty of stars out at sea on a yacht, under sail, or on a high mountain, or desert where nobody lives. Those of us who are blessed to see and know the Universe like this,….
    There is no point in ending this sentence, for there are no words to convey absolute majesty.

  12. Nice, reminds me of being a child and watching the stars with my brothers and dad.

  13. Whao, I really wish I had a telescope now!! Thanks for the pics 🙂


  14. AMAZING!

  15. You don’t need a fancy telescope to see stars, instead you can download programs that let you do that for free.

    Really? How sad. There is no comparing the experience of actually seeing these things for yourself, versus looking at pictures on a computer.

    BTW, the “fancy telescope” I used to see these things cost less than the netbook I used to write this post. Yes, really.

    Nice, reminds me of being a child and watching the stars with my brothers and dad.

    Thanks, that’s wonderful. I appreciate all of the comments…but that one’s my favorite.

  16. wow. The last time I saw Saturn like that was last summer at the Grand Canyon. There was a star gazer event and people with some high-end scopes were pointing at the sky. That photo looks exactly like what we saw that night.

  17. wow, nice pict. I love this very much, moon, sky and everything about that… hmmm interesting!!

  18. Thanks for sharing the pictures. Especially telling how you take the pictures.

    My boyfriend are dying to get a telescope. he’s constantly looking up in the sky. I’ve gotten interested in it to lately. Telescope are on our wish list. But we want a good one, of course, getting something for our money we will spend on it.

    Great post!

  19. Awesome photos I need to share with my biostats teacher! He teaches astronomy too!

  20. Stunning photos, information and blog!!
    Keep it up.

  21. […] fact, it’s not much better than I’ve done with my 10-inch scope from my driveway (proof here).  Remember that this is a sad comment on the state of the just-past-sunset atmosphere and my […]

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