Saturn will be at its dazzling best this year, coming into 'opposition' (the closest it'll be to Earth) on August 26-27, 2023. While the exact date provides a pinnacle for observation, the viewing conditions for Saturn will be promising from now until late August for late-night observations. As we progress into the months after August, early night views of Saturn will equally be awe-inspiring. Look towards the southeast sky around sunset, and Saturn will grace your sight.
Some facts that have always made Saturn the biggest *star (..or rather, a planet) in our night sky:
Saturn, the behemoth of a planet, stands as the second-largest in our Solar System, with only Jupiter overshadowing its enormity.
This gas giant's majestic rings aren't solid. They’re an enchanting mix of ice fragments, dust, and rock.
The rings may be expansive, nearly spanning the distance between Earth and the Moon, but they are astonishingly thin, measuring less than a kilometer in thickness.
Even a small telescope is sufficient to get a glimpse of Saturn's rings - the only planetary rings easily visible from our planet.
Winds on Saturn are anything but mild. Equatorial gusts can reach speeds of up to 1,800 kilometers per hour. Compare that to Earth's fastest winds, which barely touch 400 kilometers per hour.
Time seems to stretch on Saturn. While a Saturnian day is brisk at 10 hours, a year there equates to 29.5 Earth years.
Owing to its distance from the Sun, Saturn gets a lot less sunlight than Earth, making it about 100 times colder.
The day we all eagerly await, Saturday, owes its name to this distant planet.
Saturn, when viewed through a telescope or even binoculars, evokes wonder. It might initially appear like an oval or even remind some of the Batman symbol. However, once your eyes adjust, the clarity of Saturn's rings emerges, leaving viewers with an inevitable "oh wow!" moment.
Saturn in a basic telescope
Just as Earth experiences the dance of seasons through solstices and equinoxes, so does Saturn. A complete orbit around the Sun for Saturn is a lengthy 30 Earth years. Presently, Saturn is gearing towards its equinox, which means we'll witness its rings open more expansively each year until around 2028, post which they'll start to close gradually.
how Saturn's rings open and close
The enigma of Saturn's rings has perplexed many, including the illustrious Galileo. When he first observed these rings, they appeared as moons. But subsequent observations, especially during Saturn’s equinox when the rings appeared edge-on, led to a great deal of confusion. Familiar with the Greek myth of Κρόνος (Krónos) - the child-eating Titan - Galileo humorously surmised that like the myth, Saturn seemed to have 'eaten' its children (the rings that disappeared).
Beyond the rings, if your gaze drifts just a bit, you might catch a glimpse of Titan. Larger than even the planet Mercury, Titan is the second-largest moon in the solar system, with only Jupiter's Ganymede out-sizing it. Titan intrigues scientists, primarily due to its lakes and clouds of methane, which behave similarly to how water does on Earth. Visions of submarines exploring Titan's methane lakes might sound like science fiction today, but future missions might just turn that into a reality.
For those keen on a more intimate experience of Saturn and the myriad wonders of our universe, join us on one of our upcoming astronomy programs. And while you're at it, don't forget to grab one of our new bumper stickers!
Saturn's allure is timeless, and 2023 is yet another year to be captivated by its celestial beauty. So, whether you're an amateur stargazer or a seasoned astronomer, clear your calendars for late August, and let's together marvel at the splendor of Saturn!
See Saturn tonight or any night the rest of this year in a giant telescope on our program: AstroTours.org/book