Saturn's elusive rings fascinate Gympie stargazer
JUST as most people are climbing into bed at night, Gympie man Ian Adams is heading to his backyard shed in Bent Lane.
When the night is clear, the bobcat operator by day spends hours braving the cold in his small tin observatory.
Mr Adams is chasing Saturn, at least at this time of year, as the fast-spinning planet with the elusive rings comes into view in May and June.
"There's nothing else in the sky like it. All the other planets are just round - they're not as interesting."
With a high-resolution video camera attached to a large Bintel telescope, Mr Adams takes images of the night sky at 21,000 frames per picture through a computer program.
The stills are then combined to form one image - a spectacular photographic feat considering Mr Adams's subjects are billions of kilometres away.
Depending on the time of year, the stargazer focuses on planets and nebulas, which are interstellar clouds of dust and gases.
Given the constant changes in atmosphere, Mr Adams has to manually adjust the focus and make sure the mirrors in the telescope are the same temperature as the atmosphere.
"You can't be in too much of a rush," Mr Adams said.
"If you want good pictures you've got to have everything perfect - it's just that simple."
Mr Adams first saw Saturn from a cheap little supermarket telescope 10 years ago.
"It was a fatal mistake. It was so sharp in that clear black sky - that's what caused all this," he mused.
About two years ago, Mr Adams's interest was sparked further when he met famous astronomer Anthony Wesley, while holidaying in northern Queensland.
The Canberra astronomer has an observatory in Rubyvale and made waves by capturing the first images of a meteorite hitting a planet.
Mr Adams has his newly acquired ski gear ready for the coming cold months when Jupiter will be passing over.
"Distance is so great, I can't comprehend. It's just beyond me," he said.
"If it's bloody good weather, I won't get a lot of sleep."
AT A GLANCE
The second largest planet in the solar system
Has a small rocky core covered with liquid gas.
Surrounded by a system of rings, stretching into space for thousands of kilometres.
The rings are made up of millions of ice crystals, some as big as houses and others as small as specks of dust.
Saturn is very light as it is made up of more hydrogen than helium so it is less dense.
Like Jupiter, Saturn is surrounded by many moons.
Storm winds race around the atmosphere at 800kmh
Saturn has a very strong magnetic field that traps energy particles resulting in high levels of radiation.
The distance to Saturn from our planet is constantly changing as both planets travel through space. When the two are closest, they lie approximately 1.2 billion kilometres apart, or eight times the distance between the Earth and the sun.