While Summer 2017 will certainly be remembered as the season of the Great American Eclipse I have another highlight sky gazers shouldn’t miss.
The ringed giant, Saturn, reaches opposition June 15th just 6 days before the solstice. Opposition occurs when a superior planet (one outside Earth’s orbit) appears opposite the Sun from our vantage point. At opposition a planet rises at sunset, is visible all night, and sets at the following sunrise. Our moon is at “opposition” when full.
This year’s Saturn apparition is noteworthy because the planet’s ring system is now open to its maximum extent . From our view Saturn’s rings appear to “wag” open and closed over a 17 year cycle.
You’ll find Saturn low in the southeastern sky this month in southern Ophiuchus between Scorpius and Sagittarius.
The Moon will help you locate the ringed planet the evenings of June 9th and Thursday July 6th when Saturn will be just 3 degrees south of Luna.
Even a modest pair of binoculars will show Saturn as an oval shaped body. Steady your binos against a porch post or the corner of a building and enjoy the view.
At opposition Saturn is 75 light minutes or 9.04 AU (Astronomical Units). If you’re viewing the ringed planet at 11:15 pm the reflected sunlight left Saturn at 10 pm!
Graphic showing the southeastern view July 6th at 10 pm local time produced using Stellarium.
Saturn as imaged by Damian Peach in February, 2017.