LOS ANGELES - Saturn will be shining its absolute brightest from dusk on Tuesday to dawn on Wednesday as it makes its way into opposition, which is the point in its orbit that it passes closest to Earth, giving Earth-dwellers the best chance all year to get a clear view of the ringed planet.
Though Saturn itself will be quite visible to the naked eye, its rings — made of ice, dust and debris orbiting the solid planet — won’t. But any small telescope or large binoculars capable of magnifying to at least 20 power will be able to provide a glimpse of the planet’s famous rings, according to Space.com.
A planet is considered to be in opposition when it is on the opposite side of the sky as the sun, as observed from the Earth. When Saturn moves into opposition Tuesday night, it will rise in the east-southeast over the horizon while the sun is simultaneously setting in the west-northwest.
Titan, the planet’s largest moon (and the only moon in the solar system that has a dense atmosphere), may also be visible via telescope or binoculars.
To the naked eye, Saturn currently appears as a bright, yellow-white star that can be seen near the upper left of the well known “Teapot” star pattern in the Sagittarius constellation, visible in the southern night sky.
The only other planet visible to the naked eye right now is Jupiter, which is currently the brightest object in the night sky and appears more silver in color than Saturn. It can be used as a reference point to locate Saturn because the two planets are currently close together.
You can locate Saturn by holding out a clenched fist at arm’s length and measuring off about three fist-lengths to Jupiter’s left. Saturn will be in this general vicinity, and it will be the brightest object you can see.
For anyone hoping to catch a glimpse of Saturn’s rings but can’t make time for celestial viewing Tuesday, fear not.
Though Tuesday night marks the single brightest point in Saturn’s path relational to Earth, it will be nearly as bright for the rest of the month of July, making ring viewing possible for the next few weeks.
Saturn will be easy to locate once more on the night of July 15 when its path in the night sky will appear to follow that of the waxing moon’s.
On the nights of July 16 and 17, the full moon, called a Thunder Moon, will provide extra illumination in the night sky, making this another prime opportunity to view Saturn’s rings.