2017, June: Saturn at Opposition


The Ringed Wonder reaches opposition on the morning of June 15.  At this time our planet is between Saturn and the sun.  On the evenings around opposition, Saturn rises in the opposite direction from the sunset point.  As Earth rotates, it rises higher in the sky each hour.  At midnight it is in the southern sky.  From that time, the planet begins to appear lower in the sky, setting in the southwest as the sun rises in the northeastern sky.

On the evening of June 8, the waning gibbous (just past full) moon appears nearly 3 degrees to the upper left of Saturn.  The reddish star Antares is nearly 16 degrees to the upper right of Saturn.

This is the last opposition of naked eye planets this year.

The three outer planets, which includes Pluto, have oppositions this year, but they are only observed with optical assistance:

  • Pluto,  July 10
  • Neptune, September 5
  • Uranus, October 19

Observers are interested in oppositions because at this time, the planet at opposition is closest to Earth and so the planet’s observable features are easiest to see through telescopes.  The planet is in the sky all night and highest in the sky at midnight.

Photo credit:  Lowell Observatory

During an 1894 Mars opposition, Percival Lowell first began to document his later disproved discovery of “canals.”  While remote satellites give close-up images of the distant worlds, there are few more memorable events than seeing Jupiter, Saturn or Mars through a telescope.

In 2018, the three naked eye outer planets appear at opposition within an 80-day period:

  • Jupiter, May 8
  • Saturn, June 27
  • Mars, July 27

As they emerge from their solar conjunctions later in the year, they appear with Venus in the morning sky, including another Venus-Jupiter Epoch Conjunction.  More about these events as they approach.

For more information about sky watching events:

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