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I stumbled across this video capturing the rings of Saturn and wanted an expert opinion.

This video of Saturn looks so good that I was wondering if it was really shot by a hobby astronomer's telescope or if it came from the James Webb or some other probe. Any experts want to add their opinion?

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    $\begingroup$ Considering the quality and jittering, It looks like it was taken with an amateur telescope, but a really, really good one. (likely >$2000 USD like the NexStar 8SE). The JWST has higher resolution images of Saturn, and has smoother movement. $\endgroup$
    – 4NT4R3S
    Jan 21 at 16:24
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    $\begingroup$ I am suspicious. There are plenty of videos of saturn through amatur equipment youtu.be/IOlVtC-1q8I In those, the resolution is much poorer and no stars are visible until stacked and processed. The immediate source and the exceptional claims made add to the whiff of "something wrong". $\endgroup$
    – James K
    Jan 21 at 16:49
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    $\begingroup$ I note that the chromatic aberration switches direction (the "blue edge" and the "yellow edge" frequently swap positions). Any idea what causes that? $\endgroup$ Jan 22 at 12:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Peter-ReinstateMonica I suspect that the "chromatic aberration" is not from the optics but an artifact from the Bayer filters on the camera. As a point or small source excites only one or two pixels the decoding of the chroma information and the video recording compression produces the blue halo $\endgroup$
    – D Duck
    Jan 22 at 18:45
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    $\begingroup$ Let's assume that video is real (I really doubt it) and time is 1-to-1; how fast is that blue thing moving? The moon it appears to be "launched" from is probably either Enceladus or Calypso. They're about 200,000 - 300,000 km from Saturn. Let's call it an even 250,000 km. It "launches" at 20s and moves behind Saturn's shadow at 1:46, so a flight time of 86 seconds. That gives an average velocity of 2900 km/s or about 1% the speed of light. That would make it one of the fastest objects we have ever seen. $\endgroup$
    – Schwern
    Jan 24 at 2:02

2 Answers 2

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It's possible to take such video with amateur equipment. Granted, you do not get that quality with 300€ discounter telescope, but you need equipment in the order of several thousand Euros. I can see someone making something similar with the 50cm f/10 Cassegrain at our local observatory. Such images / videos need a few metres focal distance and a comparatively small sensor.

The given time might be accurate, though I don't get to match every light source by consulting stellarium (14 January 2024, 23:55 UTC):Stellarium view Compare that with a (rotated) screenshot from the video: Rotated screenshot. There might be some satellites or other sources which I don't have in my database, or some data for some Saturnian moons might not be entirely up to date. Notably there's a mis-match for Calypso (in stellarium) and no correspondance for the bright dots in the video found left above Saturn, straight above Enceladus, and below the rings in front of Saturn. Thus one can have doubts whether it's an unaltered video.

Completely different times are very unlikely as the tilt of our view onto the plane of Saturn's rings changes over the years - and e.g. a view from a year ago would look distinctly different. Also the strong colour gradients found in the video from blue to red are indicative of a recent video where Saturn is found near the horizon in the evening hours, and the wobbling of the video is indicative of the effect of Earth's atmosphere when using large magnification and taking a video with a motion camera - a usual technique used by amateur astronomers to stack the best (sharpest) ~10% of images from a sequence of images taken from solar system objects in order to remove blurring due to seeing effects.

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    $\begingroup$ I wonder if stellarium takes into account the ~80±8 minutes it takes light to travel from Saturn to Earth? That might account for some small errors in satellite positions if not implemented correctly. (It has to access the satellites' ephemerides at a time ~80 minutes before the observing time, or something like that.) $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jan 21 at 22:50
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    $\begingroup$ IT does.we use stellarium in our observatory for Teleskope Control and The view is usually exactly Like shown one The computer.Also tested with pluto $\endgroup$ Jan 22 at 0:29
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    $\begingroup$ OK great! Double-checking, it gets the satellite positions relative to the planets right as well as the planets themselves? Because if it does get everything right, then it fails to confirm the image is real because there is disagreement. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jan 22 at 0:31
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, both Match.it goes as far as predicting moon shadows on saturn or jupiter $\endgroup$ Jan 22 at 0:32
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh looking at Stellarium's code, changelog and issue list, I found this: github.com/Stellarium/stellarium/issues/230 - it seems the orbits of the minor moons are not so easy... so a discrepancy for the minor moons is not entirely surprising. I shall see whether I get the greatest and latest stellarium version from last December running and will compare. $\endgroup$ Jan 22 at 16:18
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The video lacks important information.

To take such a video requires a quite expensive setup by a dedicated amateur astronomer. Such a person would know that to be taken seriously they would provide information about their equipment, location, and time. None of the copies I've seen contain this information beyond a date, nor a reference to the original source.

This alone strongly suggests a fake.

No, Saturn doesn't look like that anymore.

Being a gas giant, the surface of Saturn changes over time, and it no longer looks like that. Here is an image of Saturn from Sept 2023. Note how the poster provides a lot of detailed information about how the image was captured, and we have plenty of examples of their previous work, unlike for the video.

enter image description here


The video is likely a static shot from Stellarium run through some filters. Stellarium appears to be using a map of Saturn created by the Cassini space probe in 2004 which matches the video.

Here is a side-by-side screenshot of the Stellarium app and the video.

enter image description here

How fast would that blue thing be moving?

For funsies.

The moon it appears to be "launched" from is probably either Enceladus or Calypso. They're about 200,000 - 300,000 km from Saturn. Let's call it an even 250,000 km.

It "launches" at 20s and moves behind Saturn's shadow at 1:46, so a flight time of 86 seconds.

That gives an average velocity of 2900 km/s or about 1% the speed of light. That would make it one of the fastest objects we have ever seen.

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    $\begingroup$ I think this answer could be improved by supplying "it no longer looks like that - it looks like this" $\endgroup$
    – AakashM
    Jan 24 at 12:35
  • $\begingroup$ @AakashM, The wording used is "Here is an image of Saturn from Sept 2023" instead of "it looks like this", but it's the same thing. The answer already provides what you said it should provide. $\endgroup$
    – ikegami
    Jan 24 at 15:32
  • $\begingroup$ @ikegami ohhhh I see, the "This" after the first picture refers to the video under discussion, not the first picture in the answer! Got you. $\endgroup$
    – AakashM
    Jan 24 at 16:37
  • $\begingroup$ Could you kindly elaborate on what noteworthy difference you see between Stellarium's image and the one you put into your post? The most discernible difference I see between the two images is the different taste of the authors put onto stressing the contrast in the clouds in Saturn's atmosphere and the colour adjustment - but that's a choice made in the processing of the image, but not of physical appearance. What do I miss? $\endgroup$ Jan 24 at 16:55
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    $\begingroup$ The strong colour contrast in the Saturnian atmosphere in the image you show, is not something one sees without extensive image stacking and contrast enhancement. $\endgroup$ Jan 24 at 17:01

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