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Space See Saturn in this Weekend's Night Sky: Ringed Planet at its Brightest this Year

See Saturn in this Weekend's Night Sky: Ringed Planet at its Brightest this Year

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First Posted: Apr 26, 2013 02:03 PM EDT
Saturn
What time is it? On Saturn, that's a tricky question. Now, an undergraduate student has discovered that a process occurring on Saturn's magnetosphere is linked to these seasons and changes with them. This image shows Saturn during its equinox, captured by Cassini. (Photo : NASA)

Want to see Saturn this spring? Now you'll have your chance. In the early hours of Sunday morning (April 28), the ringed planet will reach is opposition, which means that will be exactly opposite the sun in our sky.

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What does this mean for stargazers? Opposition will have several effects on Saturn. Most importantly, it will make the planet visible in the sky the entire night. In fact, it will take over from Jupiter as the starring planet in our skies and will be closer, bigger and bright than at any time for the rest of the year. The opposition will last for the next few weeks, so be sure to lift your eyes skyward while you have the chance.

Saturn is adorned with thousands of beautiful ringlets, composed of chunks of ice and rock. One of four gas giants that possess rings in our Solar System, Saturn is particularly spectacular. The planet is mostly made up of hydrogen and helium and has howling winds in its upper atmosphere that reach 1,600 feet per second in the equatorial region. In comparison, the hurricane force winds seen on Earth top out at about 360 feet per second.

These aren't the only traits that make Saturn unusual, though. Recently, NASA's Cassini spacecraft found the first direct evidence that small meteoroids crash into Saturn's rings. This makes the rings the only location besides Earth, the moon and Jupiter where scientists have been able to observe impacts as they occur.

Saturn will shine fairly high in the southeast by early evening, below Arcturus and Spica. If you have a chance to look at the planet through a telescope, you'll be able to see its wings presenting a wide formation; in fact, they haven't appeared this wide since 2006, according to Sky & Telescope.

In addition to its rings, Saturn also has an amazing collection of moons--62 total. Its brightest are mostly in orbits in the same plane as the rings, and you should be able to glimpse the moon Titan in almost any telescope, according to Space.com.

Don't miss out on this spectacular sight. It holds something for every skywatcher--whether you choose to use a telescope or just want to spot it in the sky.

Don't have a telescope? Don't have clear skies? Don't worry. You can see the planet online on April 27 starting at 22:00 UT here.

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