Opposites Attract: Saturn Lures Earthly Admirers

Feb 08, 2007
Saturn
The ringed planet captured by Saturn Observation Campaign members Jeff Barton and Josh Walawender. Credit: Barton and Walawender

The idea that opposites attract may be a romantic cliché. But when Saturn is at opposition, as it will be this month, it is most certainly an attraction for Saturn-watchers around the world.

Opposition is when the Sun and Saturn are lined up directly across from each other with Earth in the center. This year opposition occurs on Saturday, Feb. 10, just a few days before Valentine's Day. It's the time when Saturn comes closest to Earth and is easiest to see from our terrestrial vantage point. It puts Saturn back in the evening sky for viewing until June 2007.

Saturn's admirers are taking advantage of this opportunity. "I'm calling it a Saturn-a-thon," says Jane Houston Jones, of the events planned for observing Saturn during opposition this coming Saturday, a day named, incidentally for the same Roman god as the ringed planet. Jones heads up JPL's Saturn Observation Campaign, an international group of volunteers who share with the public their enthusiasm for viewing the ringed beauty, both through ground-based telescopes and the instruments onboard the Cassini spacecraft. The program includes more than 350 members, many of whom are amateur astronomers, in 45 U.S. states and 52 countries.

There are going to be Saturn-viewing events all around the world," Jones says, "from California, Wisconsin and North Carolina to New Zealand, Peru and Argentina. More than 20 events have been planned for Germany alone."

"The idea for the Saturn Observation Campaign to plan a worldwide observing night came from Bob Larcher of the European Association for Astronomy Education," Jones says. "We tried to get as many members as possible to organize events on the same night, and then we'll share images, photographs, drawings, poems, and notes afterward. This is our first try, and we'll do it again next year."

When Saturn comes in for its close-up with Earth, the period just before and after are good times to see the planet. "This year, January through June are the best months to view Saturn," explains Jones. "In February, it rises at sunset and sets at dawn, so you don't have to get up in the middle of the night to see it. You can start looking for it as soon as the Sun sets. It is easy to see even from the city. Saturn will be a great target for many months to come. Observers in colder climes will appreciate that!"

Since Saturn tilts on its axis, as does Earth, it appears to wear its rings at different angles depending on its relationship to Earth. "We had a nearly edge-on view of the rings in 1995 and 1996," says Jones. "The ring tilt increased year by year to a maximum tilt of 27 degrees in early 2003. Since then, the tilt of the rings has been decreasing and will keep closing slightly each year until 2009, when we'll again see an edge-on, or nearly invisible view of the rings." This year, Jones says, the tilt of the rings will narrow from 15.4 degrees to 6.7 degrees by December.

"Saturn is brighter this year than it will be until 2015," explains Jones, "due to a slight dimming as the ring tilt becomes more narrow and Saturn's distance from Earth increases."

The Cassini, spacecraft of course, now in its third year orbiting in the Saturnian system, doesn't have the same constraints as observers from Earth and continues to provide spectacular images of what has been called the most beautiful planet in our solar system.

"As wonderful as the Cassini images of Saturn are," says Jones, "it is still incredibly exciting to look through a telescope and see this spectacular planet with your own eyes."

For more information on the Saturn Observing Campaign, go to soc.jpl.nasa.gov/index.cfm

Source: NASA

Explore further: Astronomers find first evidence of changing conditions on a super Earth

Related Stories

Dinosaur-times cockroach caught in amber, from Myanmar

12 hours ago

Geologica Carpathica has a paper on a new family of predatory cockroaches. Predatory? The authors, Peter Vrsansky and Günter Bechly, from the Slovak Republic and Germany, respectively, said that "unique adapta ...

Comcast must show what's next after collapse of deal

12 hours ago

Comcast, which reports financial results on Monday, faces some tough questions about what's next for the country's biggest cable company after its dreams of a far-reaching network collapsed with the death of its $45 billion ...

Japan eyeing 26% greenhouse gas cut: officials

12 hours ago

Japan is planning to pledge a 26 percent cut in its greenhouse gas emissions from 2013 levels, ahead of a global summit on climate change this year, officials said Friday.

Auditors: National Science Foundation suspends UConn grants

12 hours ago

The National Science Foundation has frozen more than $2 million in grants to the University of Connecticut after a foundation investigation found two professors used grant money to buy products from their own company, Connecticut ...

Recommended for you

Image: Akari view of the Cygnus region in the Milky Way

May 04, 2015

The constellation of Cygnus is one of the most recognisable in the northern hemisphere. During the summer months, the stars of its long neck stretch along the Milky Way and its wings sweep from side to side.

Image: Hubble eyes galactic refurbishment

May 04, 2015

The smudge of stars at the center of this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image is a galaxy known as UGC 5797. UGC 5797 is an emission line galaxy, meaning that it is currently undergoing active star formation. ...

Improved detection of radio waves from space

May 04, 2015

Geodesy is the scientific discipline that deals with the measurement of the Earth. One of the measurement techniques it employs uses radio waves from far-distant objects in space to determine factors such ...

Pulsar with widest orbit ever detected

May 01, 2015

A team of highly determined high school students discovered a never-before-seen pulsar by painstakingly analyzing data from the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT). ...

New exoplanet too big for its stars

May 01, 2015

The Australian discovery of a strange exoplanet orbiting a small cool star 500 light years away is challenging ideas about how planets form.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.