Saturn takes over from Jupiter as the starring planet of the evening sky this spring, and right now it’s closer, bigger, and brighter than at any time for the rest of the year. The ringed planet comes to opposition on the night of April 27-28, and for the next few weeks it remains essentially the same apparent size: 19″ across at the equator and 42″ across from ring-tip to ring-tip (about a Jupiter-width).
Special Event: Watch Saturn live from your computer by joining“Around the Ringed Planet,” an online observing event sponsored by Astronomers Without Borders. Hosted by Gianluca Masi of Bellatrix Observatory in Italy, the webcast begins at 22:00 Universal Time (6:00 p.m. EDT) on April 27th.
Saturn shines fairly high in the southeast by early evening, below Arcturus and Spica. If you still haven’t looked at Saturn in a telescope since last year, the change will be dramatic. The rings now present themselves very invitingly, tilted a wide 18° or 19° from our line of sight, the widest they’ve appeared since 2006. They will continue to open (with minor seasonal fluctuations) until reaching a maximum of 27° in 2017.
The smallest astronomical telescope should reveal the rings easily and, with a little more effort, the dark Cassini Division between the A and B rings. The dusky C ring is more of a challenge to spot where it appears against the dark-sky background, but its dark shading is easier to see where it crosses Saturn’s bright face just inside the B ring.
« Caturday felid trifecta: Parrot imitates cat, cat gets stuck in car grill, woman calls cops for “kittens having sex in her yard”
Saturn visible tonight, complete with rings
Alert reader P. has called my attention to a post on Sky and Telescope about tonight’s (and tomorrow’s) appearance of Saturn in the southern sky. If you don’t have a telescope, you can watch it online (check the box below for the website and the times). I’ll be watching, as I’ve never seen Saturn live.