Six years ago, photographer Paul Stewart took a photo that still resonates today. The New Zealand-based astrophotographer took advantage of a rare event to come away with a truly memorable image. His stunning photo shows Saturn peeking out from behind the Moon in an event known as an occultation.
Occultation is a term used in astronomy to describe when one object in the foreground passes between the viewer and an object in the distance, obscuring it from view. Most often, when referring to an occultation, the Moon is the object that passes between us and a distant celestial body. In Stewart's case, the object he happened to capture was Saturn.
In the photo, we see the ringed planet as it peers out from behind the Moon. It's a beautiful moment to behold, particularly as this type of occultation is rare. Or rather, it can vary widely. Sometimes it can be seen every 168 days from somewhere on Earth, but sometimes it can stretch five years between occultations.
To take advantage of the moment, Stewart took several images and composited them together in post-production to get the best possible result. “The photo consists of three images. The first is an image taken when Saturn was coming out from behind the Moon,” Stewart tells My Modern Met. “I then shot images of Saturn and the Moon separately just after the event and processed them to give better results. Then, I overlayed the two good images over the original one. It is a bit of a cheat, but because of the high surface brightness of the Moon and low brightness of Saturn, it's impossible to get a good image of the occultation with just one shot.”
The result is a timeless shot that continues to impress. Shared widely on social media to this day, even Stewart is surprised by how long it’s endured. But then again, given our fascination with the planets, it shouldn't come as a surprise. And if you’re interested in catching an occultation for yourself, check out this calendar of events for the rest of 2020 and the coming years.