Saturn and Great White Spot

March 05, 2011

SaturnStormChumackHR2 (3)

r: John Chumack
Summary Author: John Chumack; Jim Foster

The photo above showing Saturn and an enormous storm (white blotch) that extends nearly half way across its northern hemisphere was captured from my home observatory in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Saturn's equatorial diameter at its cloud tops is 74,898 mi (120,536 km), which is the equivalent of about 9.5 Earth diameters. Great White Spots show up occasionally on the ringed planet and are thought to be analogous to the Giant Red Spot on Jupiter and massive storm systems on Earth. In the early morning hours of the 22nd, I brushed snow off the roof of my observatory dome and spent an hour or so shooting Saturn and its cloud-top storm. Earthly weather conditions including high cirrus clouds and brutally cold temperatures of -3 F (-19 C) precluded optimal viewing, but I wanted to see this storm when it was facing Earth. The hand control paddles of my scope were having a tough time coping with the extreme temperatures, and the LCD went blank and stopped working. My feet and fingers were numb by the time I was done, even with gloves on -- nothing like having to touch frozen metal to point the telescope and run the focusers. By the way, the cloud top temperatures on Saturn are about 162 F colder (temperatures are estimated to average -108 C) colder than Ohio in winter. Sharp eyes may detect several of Saturn’s many moons as specks of light just above the rings. This negative image may help locating the moons.

Photo details: DMK 21AF04 Firewire web camera (640 x 480); 10 inch Meade Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope; 2x Barlow lens; Optec Intelligent Filter Wheel; Astronomik L RedGreenBlue filters; 3300 AVI frames stacked in Registax. When this shot was taken on January 22, 2011 Saturn was approximately 865.2 million miles (1.392 billion km) away from us.