What Telescopes were made for

It was the first thing I looked at with my scope.

The journey back home on the train nursing the large brown box had been filled with caution, fear and expectation.

The sky was beautifully clear, the darkness could not fall fast enough.

I hadn’t learnt to align or track, but hours after I had got my new toy home, with the smell of polystyrene packaging still lingering, I was in my back garden with only one thing on my mind.

This was the reason I bought a telescope.

The list of things I wanted to see was vast, it still is.

Always will be.

But above them all was Saturn.

Saturn eclipse

Saturn eclipsing the Sun. Earth can be seen through the rings. NASA/JPL

I had used binoculars to search the heavens since Halley’s Comet last swung past and had regularly imagined I could just make out that distinctive shape in my 10x50s.  Occasionally when the sky was very dark and we were at opposition Saturn looked slightly elongated at the middle.

Maybe my eyes deceived me.

Certainly Galileo had them down as very close orbiting moons as he was unable to fully resolve what the odd shape was.

And he had a telescope.

For me this had been a moment long time coming.

I could see it glowing in the hazy western horizon and I crudely aimed my scope.

It swung through the eyepiece quickly, my haphazard manipulation caused a simultaneous in take of breath followed by a deep utterance of Anglo-Saxon.

Then it was there.

Utter silence.


I often talk to myself while observing, usually chastising my incompetence or sharing with the garden the incredible sight I am taking in.

But I was now speechless.

To be frank, slightly emmotional.

Here was a planet and it was definitely a planet, more than 830 million miles away, that for over two decades had been just a yellowy point of light in my beloved Carl Zeiss binos and now I could see it all.  The vast rings of ice, extending out 80,000 kms but as little as 10 metres thick, the orbital resonance of the Cassini division.  There was a detail on the atmosphere, what looked like a great white storm filling one hemisphere and either side of it moons; Titan and Rhea I later discovered.

Very quick sketch of Saturn on that first night. Author

It was more beautiful than I had imagined, the moment more satisfying than I had dreamed.

Then it was gone and I scramble at the control pad, scope swinging wildly around.

It felt like an age before it was back in the eyepiece, stars dancing in front of me.

I must have spent three hours following Saturn down to the false horizon of my neighbours fence.  I learnt much about my new telescope in that time and had fallen utterly and madly in love with 5.6851 × 1026 kilograms of Hydrogen and Helium mixed with various trace elements.

Every night that week I looked at Saturn and as often as I could after that, everyone who came over, popped in for coffee or stayed for dinner, was treated to the view.   I almost felt bereft when the Suns glare consumed it 6 weeks later.

It’s what I bought my scope for.

Saturn, one of the most remarkable, beautiful and implausible sights a human eye can witness.

Saturn. NASA/JPL

About astronomersden

Daddy, Hubby, Teacher and when ever I get the chance Astronomer.
This entry was posted in Astronomy, Binoculars, Saturn, Telescope, The Astronomer's Den, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to What Telescopes were made for

  1. rthepotter says:

    Oh yes. I too have that revelatory first-ever-sight-of-Saturn moment saved up as a turning point in my memory. You’ve described it very well!

  2. higginscoffee says:

    Yes! It doen’t look real at all despite the fact you know it’s supposed to look like that and you’ve seen it countless times in pictures. It’s the fact that it’s just ‘floating’ there in front of your eyes…..it’s like seeing it for the first time every time you look at it.

  3. wow, I think I will ask you how to use my telescope property when you come down in October!

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