Here’s a snapshot of how Saturn’s tilt has changed (from Earth’s perspective) through its long (29-year) orbit around the sun over the past few years as seen through my telescope.
April 30, 2011: Single image, handheld digital camera through 5″ telescope.
June 23, 2012: Saturn, June 23, 2012. Stack of 70 frames in Registax from iPhone 4S video taken through NexStar 8SE telescope.
May 3, 2013: Stack of 10 frames from iPhone 4s video through NexStar 8SE telescope.
June 1, 2014: Stack of 200 frames from iPhone 4s video through NexStar 8SE telescope.
May 28, 2015: Stack of 300+ frames from iPhone 6 video through NexStar 8SE telescope.
June 6, 2016: Stack of ~1000 frames taken with iPhone 6 through Celestron NexStar 8SE telescope.
On May 10, Saturn was biggest and brightest for 2014. I’ve been photographing the ringed planet through my telescope since 2011, and its appearance has changed substantially since then!
Saturn with a handheld video camera (2011), a DSLR (2012), and an iPhone (2013, 2014) through a 5″ telescope (2011) and an 8″ telescope (2012-2014.)
You can see that the quality of the images has improved over the years as my equipment and technique has evolved. You can also see how the rings are more “open” now than they were in 2011.
Animated GIF of my Saturn photos, each frame taken one year apart.
The Tilt of Saturn
Like Earth, Saturn’s axis is tipped. This allows us to catch a different view of the planet’s ring system as Saturn moves around the Sun. In 2009, the rings appeared extremely thin (and seemed to disappear altogether in small telescopes) because we were looking at them “edge-on” from Earth. In 2017, the rings will be very “open” to us.
Saturn’s axis is “tipped” 27 degrees relative to its orbit. This gives us ever-changing views of Saturn’s rings (from “edge-on” to “above” or “below”) as it moves around the Sun. Photo Credit: Tom Ruen
If you want to have a look at Saturn for yourself in May, it’s visible to the naked eye. Look for a moderately bright, non-twinkling star in the Southeast after sunset. You can also read an in-depth guide to Saturn’s 2014 appearance by David Dickinson over at Universe Today.
If you want to see more of my Saturn (and other astronomy) photos, please visit my Flickr page!