Observing Saturn

Saturn is the furthest and last of the “naked eye planets” or planets which can be seen easily without any optical equipment. It is the most distant planet that we can observe in detail from here on earth. When viewing Saturn, it’s white and yellow cloud bands can be seen although they are not as pronounced and visible as the ones belonging to Jupiter. The famous series of rings however makes viewing Saturn more than worthwhile. Saturn’s rings are made up primarily of ice chunks orbiting around the planet. The rings can be seen as two protrusions on either side of the planet when viewed through binoculars, but a telescope is need to see them with any detail.  Saturn has a tilt and certain times are better for viewing the rings than others. It is best to catch Saturn when it is highly tilted, showing off it’s rings, rather than straight on, causing them to appear as nothing more than a thin sliver (See image below). Saturn’s largest moons are Titan, Rhea, and Lapetus and they can be seen though a medium sized telescope.

Image Courtesy of NASA/STScl

Finding Saturn

Finding Saturn is even easier than locating Jupiter because it is still bright enough to hold it’s own amongst the many stars that surround it in the sky, and moves ever slower than Jupiter, only making it from one constellation to another over a period of a few years. Like all the superior planets the best time to view Saturn is when it is at opposition which occurs about once every year. Check the Astronomical Events page to see when Saturn will be at opposition.

Image Courtesy of NASA/JPL-Cal Tech

Saturn’s Rings

Facts About Saturn

Average Distance from the Sun: 9.53 AU (1,426,000,000 km)
Orbital Period: 29.4 years
Length of Day: 10.2 hours
Mass: 5.96×1026 kg (14.6 Earth masses)
Diameter (equatorial): 120,000 km (9.26 times the earth)
Average Surface Temperature: -180°C / -292°F

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