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Copyright 2008 Starry Mirror



Astronomy From West Virginia


BRIDGEPORT, WV (S-M) - These past few months, we here at our little observatory have been watching as the moons of Saturn go round about their orbits.  The rings of the planet are now almost on edge, and this is making the dimmer moons easier to see.  With the planet now moving into the evening skies in the nice weather of Spring, it is an ideal time to take a look at the ringed planet.


Even the smallest telescopes will show Titan, which is magnitude seven.  With our ten-inch telescope, we can usually see three more moons, Enceladus, Dione, and Tethys, all of which are closer to the planet than Titan.  The moons appear only as little stellar points, and sometimes when they are aligned they seem to merge into a line pointing out from the planet at low power. 


With the rings now almost on edge, Saturn doesn't present the spectacle it usually does, but there is still plenty to see in the neighborhood of the ringed planet.  Banding on the cloudtops has seemed quite dark as of late, and sometimes when the air is very steady one can still see the slight tilt of the rings, and the three-dimensional nature of them becomes apparent. 


The rings will disappear later this year when they are seen perfectly edge-on, as they consist of a disk of particles and moonlets only around fifty feet thick.  But they won't be gone for long, and in just a couple of years they will once again be tilted enough that we will see them in all their splendor.  - GW

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On the evening of March 18, 2009, an alignment of four of Saturn's moons with a field star at far left made for a striking sight in medium-sized telescopes.