Saturn at Opposition is Amazing!

Every year, as the Earth revolves around the Sun, we pass an imaginary line directly from the Sun to Saturn.  The Sun is on one side of us and Saturn is on the other.  When two bodies are on opposite sides of the Earth like this we call it opposition.  Saturn’s opposition for the year was on May 23rd, and even though it has been a few days, you can still see Saturn up pretty much all night.

Along with opposition, we can clearly see the rings, but Saturn does wobble on a 29.5 year cycle, meaning there are times when we see the rings edge on, making for some difficult photos.  Luckily, the rings are facing us right now and will reach their maximum visibility in 2017.

 

When opposition and maximum ring visibility coincide, something special happens, that we call the Seeliger effect.  When sunlight falls on the ice particles of the rings, a large amount bounces straight back toward the Sun, while the rest of the light is scattered in all directions.  Being at opposition, the Earth is in the line of fire, so to speak.  And with a large portion of the rings visible, it means that Saturn’s brightness increases dramatically for a few nights centred around opposition.

Sadly it has passed for this year, but you can still see some spectacular views of Saturn in general, during the entire summer in the northern hemisphere.  So get out to your local observatory and see it with your own eyes.  I guarantee you will never forget it!

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