Astrophotographer Captures The Moment Saturn Slips Behind The Moon In Striking Video

A composite of images snapped in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft’s narrow-angle camera. PIA12567 by NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

It’s tough to deny the beauty of the heavens as our planets careen around the Sun in a cosmic dance. Saturn is especially striking with its thousands of ringlets, believed to be the shattered remains of asteroids, comets, and moons – torn apart by the powerful gravity of the celestial ball of hydrogen and helium.

To photograph such wonder is not easy. To capture Saturn as it slips behind the moon 1.4 billion kilometers (900 million miles) away is a formidable feat that requires just the right technology to achieve. That is exactly what astrophotographer Cory Schmitz based in South Africa did on March 29 during the lunar occultation of Saturn. This occultation occurs when Saturn's orbit ducks behind the cratered body of the Moon. The event took a total of 1 hour and 44 minutes. 

“I love these astro events. They get my blood pumping,” wrote Schmitz on his Instagram account. “This is my first crack at processing the data I collected during the #occultation of #Saturn by the #moon, just before sunrise on Friday morning, viewable from South Africa. About three minutes after this, Saturn disappeared from view, hidden by the moon.”

The image is a composite made from two sets of RGB data, a necessity due to the greater brightness of the Moon compared to Saturn from the lens of his camera. In order to reveal both in one final image, he used a higher gain for Saturn than for the Moon. He then processed each image separately and combined them into a final product, which can be viewed as a flipbook of images that reveal the progression of the planet as it fades from view. 

For those of you who want to know more about the technical specifics, Schmitz has you covered.

“I used a @zwoasi 290MM monochrome camera and a motorized filter wheel, the imaging telescope was a 12" RC. I used FireCapture and some custom scripts to automate the process as much as possible."

It looks like 2019 will be a prime year for Saturn occultations, with around 14 occurring this year. Four have already transpired. Check out the awe-inspiring video below. 

[H/T: Universe Today]

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