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This Week: Saturn in Opposition

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This Week: Saturn in Opposition

On Wednesday, June 27, Saturn will arrive at opposition at 8:17 a.m. EDT. The nearly-full Moon, which will also be opposite the Sun, will pass about 1° to its north about 15 hours later, at around 11 p.m. late Wednesday night, and will then officially turn full at 12:53 a.m. EDT on Thursday, June 28.

What Does “Saturn in Opposition” Mean?

In astronomy, a planet is said to be “in opposition” when it is opposite the Sun. A superior planet (one with an orbit farther from the Sun than Earth’s) is in opposition when Earth passes between it and the Sun. When a planet is in opposition, it’s a good time to observe it because the planet is at its nearest point to the Earth.

Where To Spot Saturn

Without question, Saturn will be the showpiece planet of the night during the upcoming summer months. But unfortunately, Saturn never gets very high, especially from northern states, due to its southerly declination in Sagittarius. Two hours after rising, Saturn is still no more than 20 degrees above the southeast horizon (depending somewhat on your latitude). Even around 1 a.m. local daylight time, when Saturn crosses the meridian due south, its altitude is only around 30 degrees for most of the United States—or to be exact, 68-degrees minus your latitude. By dawn, Saturn has shifted to the southwest.

Saturn’s Rings

Saturn’s rings are, of course, its leading attraction, currently tilted about 26 degrees to our line of sight, and according to Murray Paulson in the Observer’s Handbook of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, are currently visible “. . . even in steadied (or image-stabilized) high power binoculars and small spotting scopes.”

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But the ball of the planet is a worthy object in its own right. It is the second largest planet after Jupiter and shows similar atmospheric features, though they are smaller and much paler. Then there are Saturn’s moons. The brightest, Titan, is within reach of any telescope that shows the rings.

These summer nights, try to get outside to view the ringed planet. If you don’t own a telescope, don’t despair: a good pair of binoculars will allow you to view the planet’s golden color and, with luck, you might catch a glimpse of Titan! Here’s hoping for clear skies.

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