Saturn, one of the most majestic planets of our solar system, is at its closest to Earth this month. This close approach is also called “opposition” because it will appear opposite of the sun in the sky, rising in the east soon after the sun sets in the west. Saturn will appear near the bright star Spica, a blue-white star in the constellation Virgo.
Even at close approach, Saturn is about 760 million miles from Earth. That’s eight times farther than the space from the Earth to the Sun. Even still, Saturn is a gas giant world, and will appear as a disk even in small telescopes. It only takes a magnifying power of about 30 times (30X) to resolve the rings separately from the planet itself. Of course a higher magnification can show more detail, but magnification isn’t everything. Other important factors come into play – how high Saturn is in the sky (the higher up the better), the light gathering ability of your telescope (diameter of the primary mirror or lens), clarity and stability of the sky, and more. We will discuss how to get the best viewing experience possible!
Also prime for viewing at this time of year are galaxies. These are the huge islands of stars that move among the millions and billions of light years of space outside our Milky Way. In fact, the Milky Way is just one of those galaxies. The faint fuzzy band that we see arching overhead (best in summer and winter) is simply the “inside view” of our own spiral galaxy. Here in the springtime we’re looking up and away from the plane of our Milky Way galaxy, which makes it easier to see the other galaxies beyond. We’ll offer some special tips on how to find these ancient relics of the universe.
“Gateway to the Stars” runs this Saturday, May 4 at 6:45pm in the Hansen Dome Theatre. Tickets are only $2 and are free for members. The weather is getting warmer – come and get a primer for star gazing!