Saturn slips behind the moon in stunning photos taken from New Zealand

Saturn and the moon.
Saturn and the moon. Photo credit: Alistair Bain/supplied

Kiwi stargazers snapped photos of Saturn going behind the moon overnight. 

The occultation, as it's known to astronomers, was visible from New Zealand from 12:30am on Friday until about 1:45am.

Auckland photographer Alistair Bain sent Newshub shots he took of the ringed gas giant approaching the Earth's only natural satellite.

Alistair Bain/supplied
Saturn about to disappear behind the moon. Photo credit: Alistair Bain/supplied
Close-up of the occultation.
Close-up of the occultation. Photo credit: Alistair Bain/supplied

He took the photos from Stanmore Bay just after midnight, using a 10-year-old entry level camera.

Saturn is about 37,650 times bigger than the moon, but its orbit takes it between 1.2 billion and 1.7 billion kilometres away from Earth, while the moon is only about 384,000km away. 

Otago Museum director and astronomer Ian Griffin snapped photos from his backyard in Portobello, Dunedin.

"At the time this image was taken (from my back garden in Portobello), Saturn was 1.459 billion km from Earth. The moon was a tad over 395,000 km away," he wrote on Twitter.

"Science is cool… What a brilliant night."

Another Dunedinite, Dave Bull, snapped the occultation using a telephoto lens. The photo was shared on the Dunedin Astronomical Society page.

Moon-planet occultations happen at irregular intervals, but they're predictable. More featuring Saturn will be visible from New Zealand in August and November, but before then Africa (May) and South America (June) will be treated to the celestial sight.

Planetary occultations are much rarer. The last was in 1818 when Venus crossed in front of Jupiter, and the next will be in 2065, featuring the same two planets.


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