Many amateurs want to start stargazing with Saturn. Saturn is one of the most beautiful extraterrestrial objects that can be seen from the Earth. In fact, I have seen many people getting interested in astronomy just after having a look at Saturn. However, it is not that easy to observe Saturn clearly. You’ll need a decent telescope, and of course a clear guideline.
Well, I don’t know about your telescope but the 2nd criteria will be filled from this article. Here, I’ll lay out the exact step by step process you need to follow to see Saturn with a telescope.
So, without further ado, let’s have a crack at Saturn, shall we?
Saturn Can Be Hard To See
Saturn is like both the beauty and the beast. It can be quite challenging to see Saturn. It appears very small even considering telescope standards. During opposition, Saturn appears as about 21 arcseconds in diameter. The rings are only about 2.25 times wider than the planet. So you can understand, observing Saturn can be quite difficult, but surely it’ll be worth it!
Observing Saturn is tough, but not impossible. You can accomplish this with the following items in your arsenal:
- A good quality telescope (preferably 4 inches or larger)
Before starting, let me clear out something first. With a terrestrial telescope, you can’t expect to have Hubble telescope like clarity when observing Saturn. Why? Click here to learn about space telescopes vs normal telescopes. Chances are the image will be quite blurry. However, you’ll be able to identify it as the Saturn successfully.
I’ll block the guide into several parts. First, I’ll discuss how to observe the Saturn’s rings, then I’ll go forward with the belts and bright zones, moons of the Saturn, and lastly, some of the finer details.
How To Observe Saturn’s Rings?
Saturn’s rings are the easiest to see among all the other aspects of the planet. A telescope offering only a 25x magnification will be able to identify the rings of Saturn. With a 3 inch telescope offering 50x magnification, you’ll be able to identify each separate structure of the Saturn’s rings and figure out the planet is detached from the rings.
Let me share an interesting fact. From earth, do you know which extra-terrestrial object appears to be most 3Dish? It is Saturn! Don’t believe me? Just observe with a 6 inch telescope and you’ll see it too!
Saturn appears to be as a yellow-brownish marble, rather than a flat dish like other objects in the night sky. However, the rings appear to be completely flat like a paper cutout.
- First, you need to aim your telescope towards the Saturn. For this, you’ll have to know the exact location of the Saturn from your geographic location. I have explained all of this in details in my ‘Can you see Jupiter with a telescope’ article. Follow the process mentioned there. Everything will be the same. Just instead of Jupiter, you’ll be looking for Saturn.
- Once you know where the Saturn is from your location, even with a small telescope you can identify and observe it from the Earth.
- You can even see the details of the rings, provided that the condition and atmosphere are favorable. If you have idea about the Saturn’s rings, you can easily identify the Black Cassini Division located between the rings A and B. You can also enjoy the shadings within the Saturn’s rings.
- Saturn’s ring structure is divided into the following parts: A ring, Cassini Division, B ring and lastly, C ring (from outside to inside). The outer A ring is dimmer compared to the inner B ring. Both the A and B ring appear to be brightest near the edges of the Cassini division.
- The rings project a thin shadow on the planet. It is not always visible. The shadow gradually shifts from the inside edge to outside edge about every 6 months (from Earth’s viewpoint).
- The most favorable time to observe Saturn is when the shadow is on the outside edge. During this period, the ball and the ring system appears to be detached by a black line. This farther enhances the 3D effect of the planet.
How To Observe Saturn’s Belts & Bright Zones?
Saturn consists of dark bels and bright zones. These zones are similar to Jupiter, but much fainter. With a 6 inch telescope, you should be able to figure out some of the belts and zones.
How To Observe Saturn’s Moons?
Saturn has many moons orbiting it. Till now, 62 Saturn moons are identified. However, it is not possible to observe all of them from a regular telescope.
Titan, one of the larger Saturn moons can be viewed with a 2 inch telescope. If you’ve got a 10 inch telescope in your arsenal, then you’ll be able to view about 6 of the Saturn’s moons.
To observe the Saturn’s moons, you’ll need to know the location of the 9 largest moons at any given time and date. Fortunately, technology has made that easier for us. With this mobile app, you can acquire that information anytime you need.
Till now, we’ve explained everything that can be seen with a regular telescope. In the next section, we’ll take a look at how to observe some of the finer details for Saturn. For this, you’ll need a better, more sophisticated and high-power telescope.
Saturn’s Finer Details
For observing the finer details of Saturn, 2 things are required:
- A good planetary 6 or 8 inch telescope
- Excellent seeing condition
When the above 2 conditions are satisfied, you’ll see something interesting in the rings.
- If you look closely at the A ring, you’ll see the Encke division located near the outside edge of the A ring. Of course, needless to say, it’ll be a very challenging task to identify the Encke division. When looking for the Encke division, the air needs to be steady and calm. Otherwise, the blurriness will make it quite impossible to identify the Encke.
- Furthermore, with close observation, you’ll see that there are grayish minima in the brightness of the rings. With a larger high-power telescope, 12 such minima can be identified.
- The ring C, also known as the dusky ring or crepe ring, can be easy or difficult to make out, depending on the situation. You might even have seen it without knowing it is the C ring. The C ring is easier to detect when the shadow of the rings falls on the outer side of the planet. C ring mostly resembles duskiness between ring B and the planet itself.
- With a high-power telescope, you’ll also be able to observe the changes in the zones and belts of the Saturn. But for this, you’ll have to be a long term Saturn watcher to figure out the changes. Experience speaks here.
- Sometimes spots may appear in the zones & belts. Every 30 years (which is 1 Saturnian year), there appears a major white spot among the belts and zones. Also, bright and dark spots appear randomly throughout the years.
- Do you know Saturn changes color? Yes, you can observe the subtle color change with careful observation. To observe the color changes, you’ll need to record the relative brightness of different parts of the Saturn using green, red and blue filters. Yellow filters help to sharpen up the images whereas the green filter improves the contrast of the image.
My Favorite Telescope To See Saturn
The telescope I am talking about is the Celestron 114LCM Computerized Telescope.
Here are some of the reasons why I recommend this telescope to the beginners:
- As this is a computerized telescope, you can locate most of the extra-terrestrial objects automatically by using the NexStar.
- The telescope will be ready to offer you great images after you have followed the SkyAlignment procedure. This only takes minutes.
- As the telescope is 114 mm, it will be perfectly suitable for viewing even the fainter objects in the night sky, such as the Saturn.
- This telescope will be the best bet for beginners. Let me explain why. Even if you don’t know what to observe, just press the ‘Sky Tour’ button. It will generate a list of objects in the sky that are viewable from your geographic location at that time and date.
- You’ll get a full-height tripod, 2 eyepieces, and a red dot Finderscope along with the telescope. So, it will be a complete package for starting out!
- Comes with a 2-year warranty
So, I’ll definitely recommend this telescope to anyone starting out with stargazing. Not only planets, you’ll be able to observe many more objects like nebula and galaxy with this handy tool.
I have seen Amazon is selling this particular model at the cheapest price. If you are interested, click here to check out the current price at Amazon.
So, this is my detailed guide on how to see Saturn with a telescope. Seeing Saturn is not easy. You’ll need considerably a good telescope, excellent seeing conditions and most importantly, a ton of patience and time.
However, if you identify and observe the Saturn, that will be one of the most memorable nights in your life.