What Power Does a Telescope Need To See Saturn’s Rings?

When it comes to being on the lookout for a certain phenomenon or planet, having the best telescope is key, especially while taking a look at Saturn’s rings. This interesting fellow has gathered quite the attention and it’s not for nothing. Contrary to what one might believe about its surface, instead of being solid, Saturn is, in reality, a massive gas planet, with an atmosphere mainly made of helium and hydrogen.

The prospect of Saturn’s atmosphere having more than enough helium to fill a thousand balloons without running out of its infinite supply is shocking, but not as surprising as the fact that the passage of time in this gigantic fellow is not as quick as the one being experienced on Earth.

One might complain about the year not being over already, but nothing compares to how slow it would be if given the chance to live in Saturn. Why is that? Simple: one year there equals to twenty-nine years here. This makes waiting for that trip next year more bearable, doesn’t it?

Now, one interesting thing about Saturn is that it has more moons than planet Earth, reaching a total of fifty-three, the highest number in the solar system.

From them, only Titan, Rhea, Dione, Tethys, Enceladus and Mimas are big and bright enough to be seen through an amateur telescope. If this is not fascinating already, these have been reported to have conditions that could allow life to develop in them.

On the other hand, its seven rings have gaps in between. One might think that they can be seen all the time, only to be shocked to find out that the angle they adopt every twenty-nine years makes them seemingly disappear. Thus, this could be considered an enigmatic optical illusion.

What affects our viewing of Saturn…

Their cyclical tilt has an impact on how well one can see Saturn’s rings through a telescope. Their widest opening to date reached the twenty-seven degrees, as recorded in 2017.

Up until then, the gap between them wasn’t as huge as it was in 1988 when it first opened to its fullest. Currently, the northern face of the rings is almost reaching the twenty-two degrees mark.

According to sources, once 2025 rolls around, they will appear edge-on when observing them from planet Earth, whereas they will incline to the same opening degree they had in 2017 by May 2032, which means that it will be almost impossible to look at them.

This might seem a bit discouraging but, in the meantime, keeping an eye on the width of the gap will help to have a clear idea as to how much of the rings one would be able to see.

Saturn’s rings also influence how the planet looks like through a high-end telescope. The shadow that they cast on the planet gives it a 3-D appearance.

This becomes more noticeable once the observer recognizes both the shadows’ and sunlight’s direction. The limb-darkened edges give Saturn the appearance of yellow and brown marble.

However, this impressive “look”, for lack of a better word to describe it, doesn’t translate to the rings. They are said to look as if they were made of paper in comparison, with little to no details at a first glance.

Fret not, since this can be seen with a small scope during the times where it can be seen in its full glory.

Easy to get confused…

It is widely known that planets tend to shine steadily from the distance, something might get them confused with actual stars.

Of course, Saturn is no exception to this rule, but there’s a twist: Its shine has a golden tint to it that can be enhanced with Astronomy Binoculars, as well as this particular color being detected by planet telescopes.

However, taking a look at this planet can be rather tricky, mainly because of how tiny it is when compared to other celestial beings that are seen through any kind of model, regardless of whether it’s professional or made for beginners.

Its diameter only reaches up to twenty-one arcseconds on a good day, and let’s not get started with its rings, which are 2.25 times as wide as the sphere that comprises Saturn’s body, smaller than Jupiter’s.

With all of this in mind, let’s jump right into the main subject of this article: Seeing Saturn’s rings from a telescope.

Every expert agrees that this is an enjoyable sight that needs to be experienced at least once.

Of course, a household telescope won’t provide an image with a similar quality to the more professional models, but it will bring the same satisfaction, mainly because of how beautiful this massive planet is.

For the smaller variant, it is recommended to have a magnification of 25x, as well as an eyepiece of 15 millimeters, preferably through a Dobsonian telescope.

eyepiece is crucial…

The size of the telescope and eyepiece is crucial to how much one would be able to see from Saturn since it has an impact on the image quality.

Regardless of what many could think, increasing the magnifying range won’t make Saturn appear in full detail, far from it.

Doing so will only result in the image looking even more blurry, something that would be counter-productive for someone who has been looking forward to stargazing with a clear image of what they were looking for.

To fix the issue, I advise getting a telescope with a wide enough aperture, which will allow the observer to see both planets and other celestial objects that catch their eye.

Saturn’s rings should be visible regardless of the size and magnifying range of the telescope.

It is said that one can achieve good results with equipment that reaches the 25x mark. Many observers have even been able to take a closer look at its rings with a 6-inch scope when the viewing conditions are optimal.

Also, eyepieces between 9 and 30 millimeters are capable of providing good results. I recommend adding a 2x Barlow lens into the equation, mainly because this would enhance the magnification.

Need some more help on Viewing Saturn With and Without a Telescope we have a guide for you.