The clearest ever image of Saturn has been captured
An astrophotographer has captured his clearest photo ever of Saturn as it approached Earth closest this year.
Our planet moved almost directly between Saturn and the sun on Sunday, in an annual celestial event known as “opposition.”
This is when the gas giant is closest to us and is in its full phase, so can provide a great view even with the naked eye.
Andrew McCarthy dodged Arizona’s monsoons in search of clear skies to catch a glimpse of the ringed planet over Los Angeles, US, on Sunday.
From the roof of a multi-storey parking garage, he used two cameras to capture more than 100,000 images of Saturn, before layering them together to capture the spectacular image.
The result is out of this world, as the iconic rings illuminate the planet against the dark sky, with some of Saturn’s many moons appearing like stars around it.
Our planet moved almost directly between Saturn and the sun on Sunday, in an annual celestial event known as “opposition.” This is when the gas giant is closest to us and is in its full phase, so can give a great view even with the naked eye
Andrew McCarthy dodged Arizona monsoons in search of clear skies to glimpse the ringed planet over Los Angeles, US, on Sunday
On Sunday, Saturn was 750 million miles (1.3 billion km) from Earth — the closest point. He drove at an average speed of 9.69 km per second
SATURN: THE BASE
Saturn is the sixth planet from the sun and the second largest planet in our solar system after Jupiter.
It is considered the ‘jewel of the solar system’ with its solar rings.
It’s not the only planet with rings, but none are as spectacular or as complex as Saturn’s.
Like Jupiter, Saturn is a huge ball composed mainly of hydrogen and helium, with some heavy elements.
Its core extends over 60 percent of the world’s radius.
It is similar to the rest of the planet, but made of a ‘slush’-like material of gases, metallic liquids, rock and ice.
Saturn, the farthest planet from Earth discovered with the naked eye, has been known since ancient times.
The planet is named after the Roman god of agriculture and wealth, who was also the father of Jupiter.
While planet Saturn is an unlikely place for living things to settle, the same isn’t true of some of its many moons.
Satellites such as Enceladus and Titan, home to internal oceans, may be able to support life.
Facts and numbers
Distance from Zon: 1.434 billion km
Turnaround time: 29 years
Surface: 42.7 billion km²
Ray: 58,232 km
Mass: 5.683 × 10^26 kg (95.16 M⊕)
Duration of the day: 0d 10h 42m
moons: 82 with formal designations; countless extra moons
“This was captured with an 11′ telescope and two cameras, one for color and one for detail,” McCarthy said.
“It was created from over 100,000 individual image frames captured over a period of approximately 30 minutes in the wee hours of the morning.
“I used a parking garage to elevate myself above the air currents that distort things closer to the ground, and the lights didn’t affect the image because the planet was so bright.”
On Sunday, Saturn was 750 million miles (1.3 billion km) from Earth, at an average speed of 6.02 miles (9.69 km) per second.
It reached its opposition point at 6:00 PM BST (1:00 PM EDT) and shone with a stellar magnitude of 0.3.
This event occurs every 54 weeks because the second largest planet in our solar system takes about 29.5 years to complete a single orbit around the sun.
As a result, each year we have to travel a little further to overtake and pass Saturn.
The Earth moves almost three times as fast, underpassing Saturn every 378 days, passing directly between the planet and the sun.
Saturn will be in opposition on August 27 in 2023 and September 8 in 2024.
McCarthy had to drive from Arizona due to the incoming monsoon season to capture the crystal clear images.
“The Southwest has had a lot of cloud and rain at night,” he said.
‘Planetary photography is very different from many other types of celestial photography because the planets themselves are so small.
“The air currents will basically just fold over the image of Saturn and Jupiter or whatever and completely obscure details.
“So it’s very important that you get as calm an air as possible, and it goes all the way to the upper atmosphere.”
McCarthy headed to Los Angeles after the forecast called for five of the five clear skies over the city, where he used an infrared light filter to capture the shape of the planet and its rings.
Andrew (pictured) went to Los Angeles after clear skies were predicted, and he used an infrared light filter to capture the shape of Saturn and its rings
WHAT IS A PLANET IN OPPOSITE?
Opposition is when two celestial bodies appear in opposite directions in the sky from Earth.
When the moon is full, it faces the sun; the earth is then approximately between them.
A superior planet (one with an orbit farther from the sun than Earth’s) is in opposition when Earth passes between it and the sun.
A planet’s opposition is a good time to observe it, as the planet is then closest to Earth and in full phase.
The planets Venus and Mercury, whose orbits are smaller than Earth’s, can never be in opposition to the sun.
2022 dates for planets in opposition:
Neptune: 16 September
Jupiter: 26th September
Uranus: November 9
Mars: December 8
Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica/Royal Museums Greenwich/Star Walk
He said: ‘It narrows the amount of light that gets through and passes it on to the infrared, which will scatter considerably less than the shorter wavelengths, such as blue.
And that allowed me to get really sharp details on the planet, really defined ring edges and, of course, just the nice, beautiful shape of the planet.
“Putting these images together allowed me to get the best of both worlds, where I had to use the infrared, which really sharpened things up, had the individual color filters, which gave me a lot of color depth, which is why I like the cloud bands on scattering clear have different colours.’
Andrew’s love of the universe began when he was just nine years old when he peered through his father’s telescope in his backyard and caught his first glimpse of Saturn.
He added: “By a stroke of luck, the ‘star’ I was pointed to was not a star at all. It was a whole different planet. Saturn, complete with rings and moons, was right there in my eyepiece.
“I have experienced what I can only describe as a life-changing perspective shirt. I realized that as I went about my daily life, there was an entire universe that I completely ignored.’
In May, Andrew captured a 286-megapixel image of the sun during the most intense period of solar activity in decades.
The image shows huge fireballs orbiting the sun’s surface and can be zoomed in to see the entire fiery mass in extreme detail.
He took the pictures through his telescope, making sure he wasn’t blinded by the harsh rays.
The high-definition image is a mosaic of about 50 tiles, each made up of 600 layered photos.
American astrophotographer Andrew McCarthy chose 30,000 photos to create a mosaic image capturing the sun in high definition from Florence, Arizona, USA
The image captures the dark spots, called active areas, on the surface of the sun, as well as bright sunspots bursting from the fireball