Tonight, April 28th, the planet Saturn will be at it’s closest to us, and shine it’s brightest in our night sky as it is in opposition. This very simply means that our planetary orbits have brought us together with Earth positioned directly in between Saturn and our Sun, as the off-scale image below shows, [image via theakumalian.com].
The only other planets we can view at opposition would be those beyond Earth’s own orbit, such as Mars, Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune, unlike Mercury and Venus which orbit inside of Earth’s own orbit.
This will be our best view of Saturn in six years, so make sure to get your telescopes, cameras, and eyes ready! If you’re in an area that happens to be over-cast, or over-saturated in light pollution, you can watch the celestial event live online via the Slooh Space Camera here, broadcasting from a feed via it’s telescopes in Spain’s Canary Islands. You can also watch the Saturn webcast live on SPACE.com beginning at 9:30 p.m. EDT on Sunday (0130 GMT Monday).
Everyone is expecting an extraordinary all night show, with Saturn’s beautiful rings perfectly tilted for viewing from Earth, and an anticipated brightness that is comparable with some of our night sky’s brightest stars like Betelgeuse. “Its shadow will fall so that neither the east nor west side of the rings is darkened.” [x] Not only will we get a stellar view of Saturn’s famous rings, but it’s large and noticeable storm will also be in a perfect position for all to see, usually with the aid of a telescope and/or other astronomical viewing instruments.
So how do you find Saturn?
Firstly, Saturn is golden in colour, so when picking it out amongst the stars that should help a bit. It will be located east of the well-known star named Spica, that appears blue-white when being viewed in the night sky.”How can you find Spica? Use a phrase familiar to stargazers: follow the arc to Arcturus and drive a spike to Spica. In other words, first locate the Big Dipper in the northeast now in the evening. Follow the curve in its handle until you come to the orange star Arcturus in the constellation Bootes. Extend that line until you the star Spica. The planet Saturn will be lower in the sky, about 15o below Spica. For reference, a fist at an arm legth approximates 10o of sky.” [x]
As shown in the images via EarthSky below:
Saturn will continue to stay in spacial relation to Spica and follow it across the night sky, reaching it’s highest point around midnight. Because Earth’s atmosphere tends to thin out towards the top and be more “settled”, by the time Saturn is high in the sky it will be more clear to see, and Saturn’s spectacular rings will be much more visually prevalent for all telescope users.
Saturn shall become visible after night-fall and stay that way for the whole of the evening after, so make sure to get out there early, and bring your friends and family. And remember to give your eyes time to adjust to the natural-darkness; put your phones, ipods, tablets, and laptops away, and avoid looking at any man-made light 30-45 minutes before you expect to dive into your sky-watching to get the best view. Enjoy, and don’t forget to take pictures if you can!
Find more information here, here, and here.