Observer’s Challenge – Observing Saturn

The A and B rings of Saturn, and the Cassini Division and the elusive Encke Division. 2016 June 17, 03:42, Barbados, Damian Peach. [illustrated for this article]

Saturn reveals its loveliness even in a small telescope and observers will always remember their first view of the planet and its ring system.

Saturn is always a fine sight for any observer but this year it is located at -25 latitude and -26 from the first of July. Opposition is 2018 June 27. Being at such a low altitude in Sagittarius makes observing any fine detail very difficult in the UK. The rings are around 25° but it will be a challenge to see Encke’s Division. This division is situated in Ring A which is the outer ring beyond Cassini’s Division. Cassini’s can be seen with a 3-inch refractor under favourable conditions but Encke’s is much more elusive.

Five of Saturn’s moons adjacent to a very over-exposed Saturn. D = Dione; Te = Tethys; E = Enceladus; R = Rhea; Ti = Titan. 2017 June 18, 00:28, Tynemouth, UK. David Swan. [illustrated for this article]
The satellites will be a challenge too and light pollution and low altitude will make Iapetus, Rhea, Tethys and Dione difficult. The BAA Handbook gives position data for these satellites on pages 83 and 84; Iapetus is brighter at Western Elongation and is much further out but mid-June and later August will be the best time to look for it.

There are two challengers therefore, these being to see if you can see Encke’s Division and also any satellite fainter than Titan. If you do not manage to meet either challenges, Saturn will always be a magnificent sight anyway.

Disk Drawing, 2018 May 08; Paul G. Abel

As well as observing, why not make a sketch of Saturn and its rings and any visible moons; here is a sketch by Paul G. Abel made 2018 May 08 from the University of Leicester’s Observatory. Or maybe you prefer to take images. Please do submit any sketches, images or observing notes to Mike Foulkes at the BAA’s Saturn, Uranus and Neptune Section and upload them to your member page.

For more information on Saturn read this article by Mike Foulkes, or check out the BAA Handbook.

Alan Heath
Long Eaton, Nottinghamshire

Alan is a former BAA Saturn Section Director, 1964-1994, and continues to submit regular observations to the BAA. Alan is pictured here giving a talk to Nottingham Astronomical Society on the use of filters for planetary observation, 17th August 2017; Alan’s article, The ‘Great Filter Debate’, which was published in the Journal in 2017 can be found here.

[Thumbnail image: Saturn, June 18th 2017, John Sussenbach, NL]

The British Astronomical Association supports amateur astronomers around the UK and the rest of the world. Find out more about the BAA or join us.