August 2, 2021: Saturn is at opposition with the sun. Earth is between the sun and the planet.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Earth is between the sun and Saturn today. This is known as opposition. The planet is low in the southeastern sky as night falls. As Earth rotates, Saturn is in the south near midnight. It sets in the southwestern sky as the sun rises.
From our location near the sun, the solar fire and the planet are in opposite directions in the sky and their locations are opposite each other. For example, the sun is in the south around noon. (During daylight time or summer time, this occurs near 1 p.m.) A planet at opposition is in the south around midnight.
Saturn is at opposition every 378 days. It is slow moving. The Ringed Wonder revolves around the sun in over 29 Earth years. During a single year on our planet, the distant world does not move very far in its orbit. Every year and 13 days, we pass between the sun and Saturn.
Before the invention of spacecraft, flung toward the distant worlds that capture close-ups of the enigmatic worlds, important observations were made through telescopes. The next version of a telescope or talented astronomer took their turn at the telescope’s eyepiece or capture its details on film.
New satellites, cloud features, ring details were first examined when Saturn was at opposition.
During the next few months, should you have the opportunity to view Saturn through a telescope at the local astronomy club’s public night or with the neighborhood astronomy buff, take that opportunity. Saturn is one of the most spectacular sights in a telescope’s eyepiece. Many people tell me that their first view of Saturn left an important memory for them.
Here’s what to expect. Through a 100x eyepiece, the planet seems to be about the same size as the end of a pencil eraser that is held at a typical writing distance. The rings stand out easily. The globe of the planet is yellow-white. A stripe or two in the clouds might be visible. As your eyes adjust to the planet’s brightness, a gap in the rings might be visible. Ask the telescope owner to show you Titan, the planet’s largest moon that appears as a tiny dot near the planet. Eight of its 80+ moons are visible in a backyard telescope.
Jupiter reaches opposition in 17 evenings. Add it to the celestial sights that you want to see through a telescope’s eyepiece.
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