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Saturday, 10 February 2007 02:20

Saturn easily seen over weekend while in opposition to Earth and Sun

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During the weekend of February 10, 2007, the position of the planet Saturn will be in a straight line with the Sun and the Earth, being located in between them—thus, Saturn is at opposition. Because of this arrangement and the fact that the planet will also be at its closest position to the Earth, Saturn will be easily seen at night.

Saturn will be viewable during the nighttime hours while it rises in the eastern sky near sunset, flies overhead throughout the night, and sets in the western sky near sunrise.

Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun—between the planets of Jupiter and Uranus—and the second-largest planet in the solar system—Jupiter is the largest one. It is called a gas giant because of its large gaseous atmosphere containing mostly hydrogen but also methane, water vapor, ammonia, ethane, and phosphorus hydride. Saturn does have a small rocky central core and a liquid metallic hydrogen layer between the core and its atmosphere.

For viewing with only the naked eye (without any binoculars or telescopes), Saturn will look like a bright yellow-white star. However, from a small backyard telescope, its complex ring system will probably be visible and will show more exciting details of rings and satellites with better telescopes. Larger telescopes may show the beautiful systems of rings and numerous satellite moons of Saturn. The rings are made primarily of ice particles, along with smaller amounts of rocky debris and dust.

As of 2006, astronomers have found 56 moons orbiting Saturn, with most of them only a few miles in diameter. However, its largest moon, Titan, is considered by astronomers to be the largest moon in the solar system (at about 5,550 kilometers [3,460 miles] in diameter) and should be viewable with average-sized telescopes. Larger telescopes may observe up to seven moons (in order of skygazers’ ability to see them): Rhea, Tethys, Dione, Enceladus, Iapetus, Mimas, and Hyperion.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory contains information about the Saturn Observation Campaign at: https://soc.jpl.nasa.gov/viewing.cfm.

 


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