Saturn and his rings are considered among the best views to be had with a telescope. It is the planet that looks the most alien, the most other-worldly. But Saturn's atmospheric detail is quite subtle, especially compared to Jupiter. Saturn really shines on those nights when conditions conspire to make the observing as good as possible from your favorite site.
The illustration below identifies the major features on Saturn and its rings. The image is inverted to match the view through a Newtonian reflector. SCT owners will see a mirror-reverse image with north at top and the image flipped left-to-right. Saturn rotates from right to left in the below illustration. The right side is called the following side. The left is called the preceding side. The line down the middle connecting the poles is called the Central Meridian (CM).
|Map of Saturn and Its Rings|
Saturn's rings can be divided into three main sections. These are the A ring, B ring and C ring. The A ring sometimes appears to have a wide dusky band about halfway out toward the edge. This is known as Encke's minima. It is not a separate ring nor is it a gap between rings. Encke's minima is an albedo feature. The dark, thick division between the A and B rings is called the Cassini Division, named for Italian astronomer Giovanni Cassini who discovered the feature. The B ring will display an inner section that appears darker than the outer portion. This albedo feature is indicative of a different composition in that portion of the ring. The C ring is also called the Crepe ring. It is extremely thin and Saturn's disk can be seen through the ring when conditions are perfect.
One of the features that gives Saturn a three-dimensional appearance is the shadow of the planet cast against the rings. This shadow is an inky black and sharply defined. There are not nearly as many atmospheric features on Saturn as on Jupiter. However, the Equatorial Zone, Equatorial Belts and Polar Regions are often visible.
Here are links to pages for my observations of Saturn. These pages include sketches and detailed notes.
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Revised: January 24, 2005 [WDF]