The searches that come to my blog here at bkellysky are often looking for “What does Saturn (or other bright planet) look like in a telescope?” In early January 2019, our telescopes won’t find Saturn and its marvelous rings, since we are sailing around the far side of the Sun from Saturn and lose it in the Sun’s glare.
That’s where we can ‘cheat’ by using the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. SOHO is designed to look for faint solar wind phenomena. It’s a million miles from Earth in the direction of the Sun, pointed toward the Sun and doesn’t have to deal with those pesky things like atmospheric turbulence or our Moon photobombing the shot.
In the photo from the instrument known as LASCO C3, the brightest dot near the center of the photo is Saturn. The lines on each side are not from the rings. Because Saturn is so bright, some of its photons overflow into bins on either side of where Saturn is. In other words, it’s a artifact of the sensor on the spacecraft. The dark circle is the device the spacecraft uses to block the Sun’s light, so we can see the fainter outer solar atmosphere. That ‘cloud’ on the right in today’s movies at the SOHO site is the Milky Way, the part we usually see in nighttime sky during summer.
And if you want to plan ahead, here’s a chart showing when interesting objects will pass through SOHO’s sensors: