Now is the best time to see Saturn. The “Lord of the Rings” will reach its opposition, marking the perfect opportunity to spot the planet with naked eyes and photograph its magnificent rings. Here’s everything you need to know about the upcoming opposition of Saturn.
What is an opposition?
In celestial mechanics, a planetary opposition occurs when the Earth lies between the Sun and the planet, with Earth being on the same side of the planet, as shown below.
Thus on August 14, Sun, Earth, and Saturn will almost align, with Earth in the middle. This optimal positioning occurs when Saturn is almost directly opposite the Sun in the sky. As a result, the planet will rise in the east around sunset, reach its highest point in the sky at midnight, and set in the west at dawn.
Around its opposition, Saturn will also make its closest approach to the Earth – termed its perigee – making it appear at its brightest and largest. However, Saturn’s orbit lies far out in the solar system, at 9.5 AU, and hence the angular size doesn’t vary much over the course of conjunction and opposition.
How close will Saturn be?
On August 14, Saturn will be at a distance of about 1.33 billion km (8.94 AU). This is about 66 million km closer than the average distance from Earth. Even at its closest approach to the Earth, however, it is impossible to distinguish it as more than a star-like point of light with the naked eye, though a good pair of binoculars is sufficient to reveal its rings with an accompanying system of moons.
How to see Saturn and its rings?
Opposition marks the middle of the best time of year to see a planet. The ringed planet will be visible shortly after the sunset, around 9 p.m. local time. For observers in the northern hemisphere, Saturn will rise in the southeast direction in the constellation of Capricornus. It will reach its highest point in the sky at 00:30, 45° above the southern horizon. It will become inaccessible around 04:56 when it sinks below 10° above the south-western horizon. The apparent mag of Saturn will be +0.3, making it fairly bright. You can use these space apps to locate Saturn according to your place quickly.
Don’t confuse Saturn with Jupiter
If you look at the sky around midnight, the brightest speck of light you see will be Jupiter. The gas giant is approaching its opposition on September 27. It’s several times brighter than Saturn.
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