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: Image: Multicoloured view of supernova remnant

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Cassini caught in Hyperion's particle beam

Oct 17, 2014

Static electricity is known to play an important role on Earth's airless, dusty moon, but evidence of static charge building up on other objects in the solar system has been elusive until now. A new analysis ...

Red skies discovered on extreme brown dwarf

Feb 06, 2014

(Phys.org) —A peculiar example of a celestial body, known as a brown dwarf, with unusually red skies has been discovered by a team of astronomers from the University of Hertfordshire's Centre for Astrophysics ...

Oxygen discovered at Saturn's moon Dione

Mar 02, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- Dione, one of Saturn’s icy moons, has a weak exosphere which includes molecules of oxygen, according to new findings from the Cassini-Huygens mission.

China's space ambitions ally glory with pragmatism

Jan 05, 2012

As China pushes to become a global space power, experts say its ambitions go well beyond a symbolic moon landing, to satellite observation and a global positioning system to rival that of the United States.

A golden age of exoplanet discovery

Jun 16, 2011

An exciting meeting yesterday, Wednesday 15 June 2011, held at the Institute of Physics (IOP) in partnership with the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), saw leading experts explain how far the field of exoplanet detection ...

Landing on an asteroid: Not quite like in the movies

Jun 28, 2010

Millions of miles from Earth, two astronauts hover weightlessly next to a giant space rock, selecting pebbles for scientific research. The spaceship where they'll sleep floats just overhead. Beyond it, barely ...

Recommended for you

Image: Multicoloured view of supernova remnant

6 hours ago

Most celestial events unfold over thousands of years or more, making it impossible to follow their evolution on human timescales. Supernovas are notable exceptions, the powerful stellar explosions that make ...

Ultra-luminous X-ray sources in starburst galaxies

6 hours ago

Ultra-luminous X-ray sources (ULXs) are point sources in the sky that are so bright in X-rays that each emits more radiation than a million suns emit at all wavelengths. ULXs are rare. Most galaxies (including ...

When a bright light fades

6 hours ago

Astronomer Charles Telesco is primarily interested in the creation of planets and stars. So, when the University of Florida's giant telescope was pointed at a star undergoing a magnificent and explosive death, ...

Image: Horsehead nebula viewed in infrared

7 hours ago

Sometimes a horse of a different color hardly seems to be a horse at all, as, for example, in this newly released image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. The famous Horsehead nebula makes a ghostly appearance ...

The Milky Way's new neighbour

7 hours ago

The Milky Way, the galaxy we live in, is part of a cluster of more than 50 galaxies that make up the 'Local Group', a collection that includes the famous Andromeda galaxy and many other far smaller objects. ...

Image: Hubble sweeps a messy star factory

7 hours ago

This sprinkle of cosmic glitter is a blue compact dwarf galaxy known as Markarian 209. Galaxies of this type are blue-hued, compact in size, gas-rich, and low in heavy elements. They are often used by astronomers ...

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.