27 April 2013

Saturn at Opposition 2013

Typical Telescope View of Saturn
Saturn reaches a special moment in the sky for us Earth-bound viewers, a time when conditions are most favorable for viewing the 2nd largest planet in the Solar System in all its glory. Opposition is the time when the planet is directly opposite the Sun, from our Earthly point of view. That means a few things: (a) it is at its closest to Earth, and therefore brightest for the year, (b) it is visible all night, rising just after sunset and setting just before sunrise, and (c) it is illuminated straight overhead from the Sun, much in the way we view a full moon.

For the city dweller, Saturn is an easy object to find, outshining most of the stars in the sky except nearby Arcturus, and its rival planet Jupiter (which is slowly fading into the west earlier each night). Saturn glows a yellow-white hue, in contrast to another nearby bright star, Spica. To find Saturn, it rises right after sunset this evening and for the foreseeable future, and glides from the south-east to the southern sky, and then across to the south-west after midnight.

If you have a telescope, now is the time to put it to work, as the view of Saturn will be at its finest. Wait a little while after sunset until Saturn is higher in the sky, less susceptible to atmospheric effects. The ring system is tilted 18 degrees toward Earth, so the view is quite good, and as anyone who has seen Saturn in a telescope will attest, the rings are amazing to see with your own eyes.

Here are two good resources for learning more about Saturn at opposition: Sky and Telescope's fine article, and EarthSky's tips how to find Saturn using the Big Dipper, Arcturus and Spica.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

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