Saturn through the telescope / courtesy Jim Schaff
My wife gives me good-natured grief about why I look at the same things all the time in the telescope. "Haven’t you seen Saturn before?" Well, yes but some things are worth experiencing over and over. Looking through a telescope is rather like going to an art museum and soaking in the view of your favorite sculptures and paintings. And how about music? I’ll never tire of the Yardbirds or a symphony by Copland. And so it is with Saturn.
On many clear nights, air turbulence softens and blurs images in a telescope especially at higher powers. But on a precious few nights a year, the air is so calm that images snap into view with a crispness and reality that rivals a painting. Last night was one of those nights. I was watching the ringed planet with a magnification of 250x, when all at once, the ever-present fluttering of the air fell away. During that brief time, there was nothing between me and Saturn. Nothing earthly to compromise the view. I don’t know how long I stood at the eyepiece watching, but my eyes watered in the cold as Saturn’s alien image left a lasting impression. In such moments, astronomy can be very a visceral experience.
Saturn is the one of the best reasons why everyone should own at least a decent, small telescope. Jim Schaff’s photo shows well how the planet might look to you the first time you see it. Of all the treasures in the museum of the night sky, Saturn is tops.