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.

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The concept of opposition and conjunction in astronomy

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?

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A comparison of the size of Saturn as seen at 2022 opposition and at solar conjunction | Credits: Dominic Ford, in-the-sky

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?

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Looking southeast on the night of August 14-15 | Credits: Stellarium Web

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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Did you always want to learn how the universe works? Read our 30-article Basics of Astrophysics series absolutely free of cost. From the popular topics such as stars, galaxies, and black holes to the detailed concepts of the subject like the concept of magnitude, the Hertzsprung Russell diagram, redshift, etc., there is something for everyone in this series. All the articles are given here. Happy reading!

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Ravi sharma
Ravi sharma

Excellent 💗💗

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