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We Got Lucky In Grimsby, ON - 02/20/02

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Posted by Glenn Muller on February 21, 2002 15:36:33 UTC

It was raining and we had heavy cloud cover when I got home at 5:45 pm, but it had been like that for 24 hours and with a steady breeze blowing from the South I had a feeling (was hoping) it might start to break up.
At 6:45 pm I checked outside and, Holy Cow, not a cloud in sight and the Moon was snugged up to Saturn!

The occultation was not supposed to start here until 7:19, but to the naked eye there was such little separation that I ran in to get the scope and tell my wife to start bundling up.

Our 6" reflector takes 3 minutes from closet to set-up and, since it was a mild night, cool-down wasn't much of a worry. Once I put the 25mm ep in the focuser I could see there was actually quite a bit of space between Saturn and the Moon's dark limb that glowed faintly with Earth-shine, particularly (bluish) around the edge. We could see Titan trailing.

The 10mm ep boosted the power from 48X to 120X and effectively took the bright side of the Moon out of the FOV, however; as Saturn got nearer the limb, the glare began to wash out the earth-shine definition.

Gail was at the ep when the edge of Saturns rings began to disappear. We took turns and, after a few seconds, the planet appeared to be inside a white, backwards C, then the dark line began to eat the globe itself. Shortly after, just the curve of the rings were visible, though Cassini's division had become more apparent. Although it seemed like it happened quickly, the disappearing act lasted about 2 minutes. Broken cloud started to appear just after, though with the strong winds they just scudded by. In any case, we decided to take a little break until it was time for Saturn to re-appear at 8:28 pm ( by now we had more conficence that the event would happen as scheduled ).

At 8:15, we started examining the Moon, the topography near the termininator was most interesting. At one point, I spotted a thin, shortish, but sharp black line in side a big crater that I think probably had to be a ravine. There was a crater that had a zig-zag pattern from the shadows of its peaks running across the middle of it, and another that looked like it had 2 volcanos protruding from its middle. We also viewed a large area that looked like it had been sprinkled with dark ash.

Around 8:25 we started the Moon's rim for the reaappearance of Saturn. I spotted it first - the rings rising slowly until they looked like a small lunar flare! Again, the 2 main bands separated by Cassini's division were easily defined with our small dob. The globe then began to peek from behind our large satellite and I almost expected to see a pair of eyes in that bald head! Still, it made me think of the theme from 2001, A Space Odyssey.

As Saturn cleared the Moon, I switched back to the 25mm ep, and the effect was like being in an Apollo spacecraft - what a view! Only the knowledge that lots of people would be taking pictures eased my longing for an astrophotography set-up right then. From the next while we switched views, alternating sometimes with the Meade #140 barlow attached, until 9 pm. We packed it in then to watch a program on the Discovery channel on how astronomers are detecting planets around other suns - a nice way to cap a real celestial treat.

Glenn Muller

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