Observing Saturn

The beautiful ringed planet is one of the most stunning sights in the heavens. After seeing planets, star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies through telescopes at a star party, beginning observers will sometimes say, "Well, only Saturn looks like it is supposed too!"

Any small telescope will show you the rings of Saturn. Start with about 50 power, and increase to 200 if the seeing is good. The rings were edge-on in 1996, but the ring plane is gradually tilting to face Earth more in the next few years, so the rings are opening out. Under reasonably good conditions, you can see the major Cassini division in the rings and a few cloud bands on the planet, much as the Voyager image above shows.

Saturn's largest moon Titan is almost always visible. In the city you may be able to see another moon or two. At a dark sky site five or more moons are visible. Except for Titan (which is eighth magnitude), they look like tiny dim stars.

Saturn is a Fall object for the next few years. It appears as a bright star in the sky below the constellation of Pegasus. By the Fall of 1998 it is below and to the left of Pegasus. Because its period of revolution around the Sun is 29 years, its position among the stars changes only slowly from year to year. In 1999 it will fading into the early evening sky in mid March, to reappear in the evening sky in September. In the year 2000 it rises later in October evenings, still to be visible though the fall season, and lasts a little later in early evening visiblilty into April. Of course, if you stay up late, Saturn is visible in the summer also.

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