WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- Skywatchers will get to see Saturn and its rings at their brightest as the ringed planet reaches opposition.
- Saturn will be opposite the sun in Earth’s sky, allowing for its rings to be illuminated brightly by sunlight.
- Its peak will be at around midnight local time in the constellation Capricornus.
Saturn is at its brightest this month as it reaches opposition. Starting at about 2 a.m. EDT (0600 GMT) on Monday, Aug. 2, shywatchers will be able to see a fully illuminated Saturn, EarthSky.org reports. Its peak will be at around midnight local time, in the constellation Capricornus.
The celestial phenomenon called opposition occurs when another planet appears opposite the sun in Earth’s sky, aligning the three celestial bodies in an invisible straight line.
As Saturn’s northern hemisphere tilts in our direction, skywatchers are granted a nice view of its rings, which will be illuminated by sunlight.
Saturn’s biggest moon, Titan, could also be easily seen through a small telescope. Astronomer Phil Plait told NPR, “If you take a look, you might see a little star right next to Saturn. That might very well be Titan.” You can also check out online planetarium software to confirm it.
Avid skywatcher and particle physicist Carlos Blanco of Princeton University recommends using a telescope that provides a narrow field of view and high magnification, like an 8-inch Dobsonian telescope, for example.
“In the sky, planets are unique in that they are relatively bright but almost point-like, as opposed to the moon or the Andromeda galaxy, which extend several degrees in the sky,” he explained. “So to get a good look at them, you want to have a scope such that the image you see in the viewfinder is roughly as big as the planet. In other words, the circle that the viewer makes in the sky should be very tight around that point of light. Roughly speaking, the higher the magnification power of the telescope, the smaller the field of view, and vice versa.”
Check out options on Space.com’s list of this year’s best telescopes.
Even without a telescope, you can still spot Saturn with the naked eye. Plait says to look out for the brightest point in the night sky (it’s best to do this after Venus has set). Jupiter is that bright spot, and Saturn will be the next-brightest point in the sky, west of it.
At opposition, Saturn will be opposite the sun, meaning that it will be high up in the Northern Hemisphere’s sky at night.