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Stunning Saturn and Mars

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Got up at 3.00 with the Tak and Ioptron already set up. I had observed the two planets yesterday and seeing was good but right from the start it was clear that this morning the seeing was excellent.

Saturn was sharp and steady as a rock. The Cassini division was visible all round and subtle bands on the planet showed up well. Given it's altitude the view was exceptional: the 3D quality of a sphere within the rings was thrilling. Titan was also clearly visible north of the planet despite the lightening skies. I had to wait a few minutes while the planet was eclipsed by my local telegraph pole but then it was back. I tried various magnifications up to 300x with the Nagler zoom and the view stood up well. My contrast booster filter improved the band detail a little but I preferred the slightly brighter view without it.

Then the planet dimmed and disappeared! Looking up I could see clouds had appeared from the south out of nowhere. They had a faint reddish tinge and looked for all the world like an approaching sandstorm. This was just before I was due to switch to Mars which was now clear of my garage roof. 'Bother' I said (or something similar), surely I wasn't going to be denied a view on such a morning? I waited optimistically as there seems to be some blue on the horizon and then thankfully Mars blazed brightly again. Despite the dawn skies it is amazing how bright it is already 

What a view! The planet was sharp with no sign of poor seeing. A dark band crossed the whole disc below the southern ice cap which looked surprisingly large. the planet really looks like a solid ball floating in space. Again it took up to 300x magnification. The contrast booster enhanced the colour to a beautiful orange/red. This was Mars at its best - a clearly rocky world with surface features and a amazing colour. Simply stunning - I had goosebumps on me goosebumps! I watched spellbound as the skies brightened until the seeing started to deteriorate a little and a slight wobble affected the limbs. Time to go back to bed.

I have been pessimistic about the coming opposition with all the talk of how low the planet will be. But we are still over a month away from that and we get views like this. Bring it on!

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Nice one Kerry, it was a nice clear night ..... I managed a trip over to the dark site but the clouds rolled in before I could get a clear view of Saturn ..... Jupiter was fantastic along with some nice doubles ?

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Great report, Kerry.

There was a BAA ebulletin last night from the Mars Section Director advising of a regional Martian dust storm in the southern hemisphere. It appears to be localised at present, but worth watching out for (although I hope it doesn't spread and obscure all that lovely detail!!)

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Yes, great seeing here as well in Wales allowing detailed views of Mars in a Meade 8'' sct.

Above the S. Polar cap was a dark band with some structure and above that a featureless equatorial band. Maybe a dust storm? In the Northern hemisphere a smaller dark patch less conspicuous than in the South. A bright crescent along one limb connected the S. ice cap with the North pole.

I was joined by a pair of hedgehogs and, less welcome, by the sound of hornets from a nearby nest up and about their business even before dawn broke.


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