It’s been a little while since we’ve visited Saturn in our night skies, but this week, the giant ringed planet is definitely worth a look.
This weekend, Saturn is in a position we call opposition in the sky, which means it is directly opposite from the Sun in the sky. This means this is the best opportunity we will have to view it all year. When it is opposite the Sun from us, that means that Earth is directly between the Sun and Saturn, which has an orbit further from the Sun than ours. It also means that we are closer to Saturn now than we have been in more than a year. Even so, it is almost ten times further away from us than we are from the Sun. Regardless of that vast distance, Saturn is brighter now than it has been in years. The rings around the gas giant are tilted in our direction, which makes viewing through a telescope spectacular right now, and tends to make Saturn dominantly bright in the sky.
The other advantage to Saturn being at opposition is that it is visible the entirety of the night, rising in the east just as the Sun sets in the west, passing overhead to the south by midnight, and setting in the west just as the Sun is preparing to rise. So, there is no time when you can’t see Saturn during the night.
It hasn’t moved far in the sky from when we last looked. It still dominates the region of Scorpius, almost due south at midnight, just above the arc of the constellation. Go out any night this week, with a new moon, there will be little other light in the sky to distract you from the amazement that is the ringed planet Saturn.
Venus is ever growing nearer as it catches us in its orbit. When we began in March, it was 123.76 million miles away from us. This week, it is at 77.62 million miles. It has decreased an amazing 46 million miles since we began!
Thanks for your interest in astronomy and our featured articles! If you have any article requests or questions, contact Spanish Peaks Amateur Cosmos Enthusiasts [SPACE] at email@example.com for inquiries about scientific information, or follow us on Twitter @ColoSpacEScapE for current updates or additional viewing opportunities.
William J. Bechaver is the Director of SPACE – Spanish Peaks Amateur Cosmos Enthusiasts [SPACE], the local Astronomical Society in Southern Colorado.