Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Planets Align Tonight and Saturn Steals the Show

Saturn at its biggest and brightest this weekend; look up and marvel



Saturn is having a moment, and you won't want to miss it.

The ringed planet -- arguably the most beautiful in the solar system -- will reach opposition on Saturday, making this weekend an optimal time to see it in the night sky.

When a planet is in opposition, it is exactly opposite the sun as seen from Earth.

So this weekend, when the sun sets in the west, Saturn will rise in the east, and when the sun is farthest below the horizon, Saturn will reach its highest point above the horizon.

This weekend, Saturn will also be at its closest point to Earth, so it will appear slightly bigger and brighter than usual.

The best time to look for Saturn is late in the evening when the planet has risen high in the sky. It will look like a fairly bright star glowing white with just a touch of yellow, said Alan MacRobert, senior editor of Sky & Telescope, in a conversation with the Los Angeles Times.

To locate it, MacRobert recommends looking for the bright star Arcturus, which you can find by following the arc of the Big Dipper's handle away from the bowl. Then look for Spica, to the right of Arcturus. Below Spica and somewhat to the left you'll find Saturn.

And if you have a telescope, you'll definitely want to pull it out so you can see those glorious rings.

"The first impulse people have when they see Saturn for the first time is to say it is fake," said MacRobert, who writes the weekly column "This Week's Sky at a Glance." "It is almost too much of an icon. We've seen the image of that planet with the rings since we were kids, and to see the real thing -- some people can't believe it's real."

If you don't have a telescope, and you can't figure out how to locate someone that does have one, you can get a closer look at Saturn through the online space telescope at Slooh.com. The site is planning to broadcast a live feed of Saturn at opposition on Sunday April 28th, starting at 6:30 p.m.

And if you are planning to spend this weekend in a cave, or a basement, don't fear. MacRobert assured us that the views of Saturn should remain pretty great throughout the spring.
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