Saturn has been fascinating star gazers ever since telescopes were invented. There is nothing else like it in the night sky, resplendent with its rings, it's the one planet (besides earth) that everyone recognises. The planet has been much in the news recently, firstly because the Cassini mission is coming to a spectacular end, and also because of a planned mission to go back to Saturn's biggest moon, Titan.
The last probe to Titan was sent in 2005, and was an atmospheric sampler and lander called Huygens after a Dutch astronomer of the 17th century. Sent by the European Space Agency (ESA) the Huygens mission was successful in whetting the appetite of astronomers to know more about this strange world. Incidently, imagine how difficult an achievement like this is, to send a machine 1 billion miles, match speed and orbits with another planet, change orbit to go around a moon, then land safely.
The Huygens lander is still the only machine to land among the outer planets.
Going back to the Cassini probe for a moment, it's been in the news because it had its orbit changed to perform some dangerous manoeuvres that send it through the rings, and gets it very close to the planet. These fly bys are only possible because the probe is at the end of its life so it can be risked in this way. The last orbit will send it crashing into Saturn on the 15th of September this year, sending lots of data all the way to its end.
Have you ever wanted to have a look at Saturn for real?
Photos of the planet are spectacular, but seeing it through a telescope with your own eyes is a very special experience. Saturn, seen as a tiny image in the eyepiece, with its glittering rings, cloud stripes, and moons tirelessly orbiting is unforgettable.
The Vega Baja Astronomy group are setting up some telescopes so anyone who comes along can enjoy this for themselves.
Come to the promenade at Punta Prima, about 200 metres south of the Nautilus bar on September 14th from 9.30pm for about an hour and you can see for yourselves.
You can also find us on Facebook where you will see some pictures taken by our astrophotographers.