Tuesday 6 May 2014

The opposition of Saturn.

The planet Saturn will be at opposition (directly opposite the Sun) at about 6.00 pm GMT on Saturday 10 May 2014. This means that it will both be at its closest to the Earth this year, about 8.9 AU (8.9 times the average distance between the Earth and the Sun, or about 1 331 000 000 km), and completely illuminated by the Sun. While it is not obvious to the naked eye observer, the planets have phases just like those of the Moon; being further from the Sun than the Earth, Saturn is 'full' when directly opposite the Sun. 

The relative positions of Earth and Saturn when the planet is at opposition. NASA/JPL.

While the relative positions of the planets have no direct influence on life on Earth, the opposition of Saturn does present the best opportunity for observations of the planet by Earth-based observers. On Saturday 10 May 2014 Saturn will appear as a bright object in the constellation of Libra, rising at about sunset in the southeast in the Northern Hemisphere and the northeast in the Southern Hemisphere. Seen through a moderate sized telescope both the planet and its rings should be visible, with the rings tilted at an angle of 21.5°.

The position of Saturn in the night sky at 6.00 pm GMT on Saturday 10 May 2014. Space.com.

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