Saturn at opposition

Robert Bigelow

The planet Saturn was at opposition on April 3. That means that Saturn is opposite the Sun, as seen from Earth. Being opposite the Sun means that it will rise as the Sun sets and set as the Sun rises. So it will be visible all night. The time near opposition is also the time when it is closest to Earth. Therefore it will appear at it biggest and brightest. All this means that the best time to observe Saturn is now.


Diagram of Saturn at opposition

Saturn, along with Mars, Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune have orbits that are farther from the Sun than Earth. The planets that orbit farther from the Sun than Earth are called superior planets. While the time around greatest elongation is the best time to view Mercury and Venus, the time around opposition is the best time to observe the superior planets. This also applies to asteroids that orbit farther from the Sun than Earth. Ceres, the largest asteroid and smallest dwarf planet, will be at opposition September 16, 2011. At that time it will be an easy target in binoculars.

For those wishing to see Saturn through a telescope (yes, the rings are visible), both the Salt Lake Astronomical Society and the University of Utah Department of Physics and Astronomy host free public observing sessions. The U of U observing sessions are held every CLEAR Wednesday night on the roof of the South Physics Building at the University of Utah. During spring they begin at 8:00 p.m. The Salt Lake Astronomical Society has observing sessions at several locations in the Salt Lake Valley and at the Stansbury Park Observatory Complex (SPOC) in Tooele County. For locations and dates, check their website.

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