This month, Saturn, the sixth planet in our Solar System, reaches opposition. A body in space is at opposition when it sits 180° from the Sun in relationship to the Earth.
Opposition is the best time to view a superior planet – one beyond the Earth’s orbit – because it is visible for more of the night than at any other time. For Mercury and Venus, inferior planets located nearer to the Sun, though, elongation is the best time to watch. Elongation is when these planets reach their farthest angle from the Sun, as viewed from Earth.
Saturn, which appears as steady bright yellow star, is easy to locate this year. It sits just to the east of the blue-white star Spica. To find Spica, just remember a little mnemonic device popular among stargazers: “Follow the arc to Arcturus and drive a spike to Spica.” Huh? Simple. Find the Big Dipper, currently located in the northeast. Follow the curve of its handle to Arcturus, an orange star in the constellation BoÃ¶tes. From Arcturus, it’s a straight line in the same direction to reach Spica. Saturn will be sitting a little lower in the sky than the star.
Saturn will reach opposition on April 28, rising at nightfall and reaching its highest point near midnight. Though the planet is easy to spot with the naked eye, telescope users will be able to see its famed rings.