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May 5, 2011 / Dr. Toad

I saw Saturn!

Last night an incredible thing happened: I saw Saturn with my own eyes. And I’m not talking about a photograph or a model or anything like that. I saw the real thing. Light traveled from 800 million miles away and arrived at my eye. My right eye, to be exact.

You'll have to make do with this photograph by NASA's Cassini Orbiter.

The very helpful volunteer from the Seattle Astronomical Society wanted me to see the shadows of the planet on the rings and those of the rings on the planet, but I did not see that, unfortunately, although the rings themselves were clear as the mercifully clear sky that allowed the viewing in the first place. Saturn, refracted in the 120-year-old telescope at the Jacobsen Observatory, was much smaller than the photo above. No matter. I’m still a bit bewildered from the experience.

It may also have something to do with the fact that the telescope itself is a thing of beauty and precise engineering that at its ripe old age of 120 is not only fully functional (after a restoration effort in the 1990s) but, according to another volunteer, is as good as any modern 6″ refractor scope. I wouldn’t know about that. But I saw Saturn in its eyepiece.

This May, four planets are visible in morning (pre-dawn) Seattle skies.

The next open house at the observatory is Wednesday, May 18th, 9:00-11:00pm.

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2 Comments

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  1. Ben / May 6 2011 7:58 am

    Beautiful moment. Isn’t this where science starts?

  2. Dr. Toad / May 8 2011 6:54 pm

    It so is. Usually it’s associated — I think — with having an astounding experience at a more tender age. But there’s no reason — I think — one can’t be moved also as an adult, at least moved enough to keep coming back to read about it.

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