A view of Saturn in a telescope is considered by many to be the ultimate showpiece of amateur astronomy. This weekend the ringed planet’s famous rings may shine a little brighter than usual.
Saturn is at opposition this weekend…meaning it appears opposite the sun in our skies and is above our horizon all night.
That means also that the sun, Earth and Saturn are more or less lined up and sunlight is streaming past Earth and hitting Saturn straight on. That “straight on” sun angle on the planet and rings as seen from Earth makes the rings appear to brighten for a few days around opposition. It’s called the “Seeliger effect”.
Saturn’s rings are currently being presented to us at a shallow 9 degree angle.
Look for Saturn over in the east in the late evening this week. Although it rises around sunset, by 10 PM or so it’s well up in the east, appearing as a bright, yellowish star that doesn’t twinkle as much as the background stars. Generally the higher Saturn appears in the sky, the sharper the image in your telescope will be.
You’ll get no hint of the rings or their brightening unless you have a telescope powerful enough to reveal the rings. But most any scope magnifying about 30X will begin to reveal Saturn’s rings appearing to poke out the sides of the planet. Larger scopes at higher magnifications will show the rings in stunning detail.
Click here for some recent outstanding Saturn images done by amateurs.