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Observing report 2 Part 1 - Saturn 22-4-11


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So my Skyliner 200p had finally arrived, and after assembling and modding bits to it during shoddy weather, it got is first light last night. What a night it was!

I checked the collimation before packing all my kit up into my car. I wasn’t going to waste a night of good seeing with my new scope, stuck in a garden filled with light pollution. I drove 15 mins to my local site, with my dad clutching onto a wooden stool and a rug. We have been trying to find a seat higher as with objects at the zenith, the dobsonian focuser was just too high for camping chairs.

After setting up and taking what felt like 3 seconds to get everything ready, we set up the binos to allow the scope to cool down. We are both very pleased with the ease of use with this dob, it is exactly what I should have started with to begin my journey into serious amateur astronomy.

There were 3 main environmental bonuses last night, they were that the dew didn’t come down at all, the moon hardly rose above the horizon and that the temperature was perfectly mild. This made a great difference to last time we were out and our coffee was freezing to the top of the cars!

I spent 1 minute aligning the optical scope and telrad to my highest power eyepiece, centred on polaris for least movement. This REALLY helped for the rest of the night and enabled us to bath through a giant list of objects that would have definitely proved more difficult to locate. I recommend this to any new starters like me.

While I was looking at polaris I also checked the collimation by defocusing and I was more than happy with the results.

Firstly we zoomed to Saturn, there was still a little light in the sky so I knew it would be 3 or 4 hours before it reached its optimal height in the sky for viewing. Nevertheless my mind was blown away! For the first time in my entire life I could see the cassini divison J This beautiful gap in the rings was visible on both sides of the planet and I was so chuffed to have seen it! The 8mm televue plossl had really proved it’s worth. Obviously the contrast and sharpness was second to none, but what I am consistently impressed by is the way in which Televues make it really easy to focus into a crispness, something essential for planetary observing – buy this eyepiece!

While spending around 30 mins so that my dad could also say he has seen cassini, we tried to catalogue the moons that were currently visible. We thought that we could make out 7, but I had remembered from previous sessions with my old scope that looking on stellarium afterwards had proven some of them were stars. I can now clarify that we saw Rhea and Dione very close to each other, Tethys and Titan the other side and bright. But for the first time a new moon as well, Mimas! Mimas was all but a tiny pin of light, but it was definitely apparent, very close to the plane of the gorgeous rings.

Through my new scope and eyepieces such lovely detail we observed.

As well as Mimas and cassini being firsts, the increased detail showed horizontal shadow of the rings on the planet as a lovely thin black line. The rings were very obviously moving in front of the planet on one half of the semi circle, and moving behind the planet on the other. The rings were slightly brighter than the planets sphere so it was possible to make out them passing in front of the edges on the planet. Likewise, the planet cast a very small shadow one of the far side of rings, indicating they were behind.

I mention this in depth because before my new purchases, it was impossible for me to detect which side of the rings were passing in front and behind of the planet. The current dark band on the planet was really confusing before now, it and the storm slightly above were causing a confusing optical illusion whereby both sides of the rings appeared to be passing in front of the planet. But now it was like witnessing a 3D hologram in space!

Although my session featured Saturn and lots of deep sky objects, I have chosen to split it into two parts and I realised I have already droned on for far enough...!

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