History of the Saturn, Uranus and Neptune Section

The BAA Saturn Section was formed in April 1891, a few months after the BAA itself was formed in October 1890. The first director of the section was Nathaniel E Green.

The section has the longest record of amateur observations of Saturn.

There have been many observational highlights of Saturn during the section’s history. These are too numerous to list here but include:

(1). The landmark observation of the occultation of the star BD +21° 1714 behind by Ring A and the Cassini Division on 1917 February 9. This was observed independently by Captain Maurice Ainslie and Mr J. Knight. These observations showed the translucency of Ring A. The star was also visible through the Cassini Division. A small number of stellar occultations have subsequently been observed from time to time.

(2). The discovery of a large white spot in the planet’s Equatorial Zone by Mr. W. T. Hay on 1933, August 3. Hay is better known as Will Hay, the popular musical and screen comedian of that time. This spot is of a class of storms often referred to as Great White Spots. Similar bright storms were subsequently observed in 1960, 1990 and 2010/2011. This latter storm occurred while the Cassini spacecraft was in orbit around Saturn. A large number of high resolution observations were also generated by section members of this storm.

(3). Observations when the rings are edge on to the Sun and to the Earth.

(4). The occultation of the star 28 Sagittarii by both Saturn and its largest satellite, Titan, on 3 July 1989. Such stellar occultations by Titan are extremely rare.

For a short time, the observation of Uranus and Neptune was part of the Asteroid and Remote Planets Section. However, in December 2005 the observation of these planets was transferred to the Saturn section with BAA Council approval. The name of the section remained unchanged for a few years. However, with growing interest in these two planets, it was decided to change the name to the Saturn, Uranus and Neptune section with Council approval in late 2016.

Both planets have very small angular diameters compared to the other planets making the detection of any features on their respective disks very difficult. However over the last few years, a number of section members using larger telescopes have sometimes been able to detect larger cloud features in the atmospheres of both planets.

One observational highlight was the observation of the occultation of the star UCAC4-410-143659 by Neptune’s largest satellite Triton on 2017 October 5.

The section now has contributors from all over the world. This enables the section to monitor these three planets whenever they have high northern or high southern declinations.

Section Directors

From To Director
1891 1893 Nathaniel E Green
1893 1895 Reverend Alexander Freeman
1895 1899 Nathaniel E Green
1899 1912 George Mitchell Seabroke
1912 1917 Patrick Henry Hepburn
1917 1919 William Herbert Stevenson
1919 1931 Patrick Henry Hepburn
1931 1934 Maurice Anderson Ainslie
1934 1935 Bertrand Meigh Peek
1935 1939 Reverend Theodore Evelyn Reece Phillips
1939 1945 Maurice Anderson Ainslie
1946 1951 Arthur Francis O’Donel Alexander
1951 1963 Mark Bernard Brewer Heath
1963 1970 Alan Heath
1970 1974 Gilbert Elliott Satterthwaite
1974 1993 Alan Heath
1993 2007 David Graham
2007 Mike Foulkes

Return to the Saturn, Uranus and Neptune Section home page

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.