Monday 12 June 2017

Saturn at opposition.

The planet Saturn will be at opposition (directly opposite the Sun) at about 10.05 am GMT on Thursday 15 June 2017. 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 Thursday 15 June 2017 Saturn will appear as a bright object in the constellation of  Ophiuchus, rising at about 10.30 pm 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 26°. However this opposition will occur not long after the Full Moon on 9 June, which will affect observations.

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