The Half-Astrophysicist Blog

Saturn at Opposition

I should have posted this a couple of days ago.  Tonight, March 8th, Saturn is at opposition.  Opposition is generally the closest approach to Earth and the best time to observe a planet.  Don’t worry if you miss tonight…Saturn will be very well positioned for observing and impressive for several weeks (and Saturn is always impressive).

Opposition gets its name due to the fact that Saturn and the Sun are exactly opposite in the sky.  When the Sun goes down, Saturn rises.  At midnight, Saturn is highest in the sky and it sets as the Sun rises.  If you could look at the solar system from above, the Sun, Earth and Saturn would form a straight line.

Saturn is easy to find.  It is in the relatively bright constellation of Leo.  Here is a finding chart for tonight (click to embiggen).

satrun0001The backwards question mark is the head of Leo the Lion.  A relatively bright star, Regulus, is at the bottom of Leo’s body.  Saturn is the bright yellow object beneath Leo’s hindquarter.

If you can get a small telescope, you can see the rings.  Try abot 50x magnification to start out.  The rings are almost edge on right now, but they are still impressive.  Saturn’s rings appear edge on about ever 15 years, so enjoy this unique view of a think ring slicing the planet in half. Some people think this is a bad time to view Saturn, but I enjoy this unique view.

You should also see Saturn’s brightest Moon, Titan.  You may see a couple of other moons depending on the size of your telescope.  To help you find the Moons, you can check out Sky and Telescope’s Saturns Moon Applet. Simply type in your date and time and it will plot the positions of the brightest moons.

It’s cloudy here tonight, but I will be slapping a webcam on the back of my telescope when it clears to try and get some images later this week…stay tuned.

March 9, 2009 - Posted by | Observing

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