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EarthSky // Astronomy Essentials, Science Wire, Space Release Date: Feb 01, 2016

Give me five minutes and I’ll give you Saturn in 2016

Watch for the moon to pair up with Saturn on the mornings of February 3 and 4. And learn how to identify Saturn for the rest of 2016.

In October 2013, Cassini flew high above Saturn, looking down toward its north pole. It took a series of shots that were then assembled into this amazing mosaic by software engineer Gordan Ugarkovic.

In October 2013, Cassini flew high above Saturn, looking down toward its north pole. It took a series of shots that were then assembled into this amazing mosaic by software engineer Gordan Ugarkovic.

Saturn is the sixth planet outward from the sun and farthest world that’s easily visible to the unaided eye. You need a telescope to see the planet’s wide, encircling rings, but Saturn is also fun to watch with the eye alone. It shines with a steady light and golden color. Follow the links below to learn more about seeing Saturn throughout 2016.

When can I see Saturn in 2016?

To find Saturn in 2016, look for the star Antares and the Crown of the Scorpion.

Saturn is closest, brightest, opposite the sun on June 3.

Where will Saturn be in the second half of 2016?

Saturn basics.

View larger. For illustrative purposes, the moon appears larger than it does in the real sky. Mid-northern latitudes in Europe and Asia will see the moon somewhat offset toward the previous date. The green line on the above chart depicts the ecliptic - Earth's orbital plane projected onto the constellations of the Zodiac.

View larger. | For illustrative purposes, the moon appears larger than it does in the real sky. Mid-northern latitudes in Europe and Asia will see the moon somewhat offset toward the previous date. The green line on the above chart depicts the ecliptic – Earth’s orbital plane projected onto the constellations of the Zodiac.

When can I see Saturn in 2016? In January and February, you have to wake up before dawn to view Saturn in the southeastern sky. Be sure to wake up early on the mornings of February 3 and 4 to see the waning crescent moon coupling up with Saturn in the predawn sky. See the sky chart above.

In fact, Saturn and his sibling worlds – Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter – all appear together in the same sky – before dawn – from late January to mid-February. This hasn’t happened since 2005. Read more: See all 5 visible planets at once!

Saturn will rise about two hours earlier for each month that follows this one. From mid-northern latitudes, in late March 2016, it’ll rise around midnight local time – that’s midway between sunset and sunrise.

South of the equator, Saturn can be seen earlier. It’ll rise around midnight in late February or early March.

By late April 2016, Saturn will climb into our sky by around mid-evening, and by late May – as seen from around the world – you’ll see Saturn coming up at nightfall or early evening.

June and July will be especially good months in 2016 to view Saturn. The planet will be out all night long, or nearly so. The reason is that we’ll pass between Saturn and the sun on June 3.

At that time, Saturn will be opposite the sun as seen from Earth, to rise in the east at sunset, climb highest up at midnight and to set in the west at sunrise.

In early 2016, look for Saturn near the bright red star Antares - also called the Heart of the Scorpion - and the little arc of stars above Antares, known as the Scorpion's Crown.

In January and February, 2016, look for Saturn near the bright red star Antares – also called the Heart of the Scorpion – and the little arc of stars above Antares, known as the Scorpion’s Crown.

By March, 2016, Saturn has moved further to the east of Antares, and the planets Mars is there, too.

By March, 2016, Saturn has moved further to the east of Antares, and the planets Mars is there, too.

Scorpius is one of the few constellations that looks like its namesake.  The bright red star Antares marks the Scorpion's Heart.  Notice also the two stars at the tip of the Scorpion's Tail.  They are known as The Stinger.

View larger. | To verify that you’re looking at Saturn, find Antares and the compact line of three stars – sometimes called the Scorpion’s Crown – to the west of Antares.

To find Saturn in 2016, look for the star Antares and the Crown of the Scorpion. Saturn lodges fairly close to a bright zodiacal star throughout 2016, Antares in the constellation Scorpius. If you’re handy with a planisphere, you can estimate Antares’ position in your sky – then use this star to locate Saturn.

Although Saturn and Antares shine relatively close together on the sky’s dome this year, you can distinguish Saturn from Antares by color. Saturn exhibits a golden hue whreas Antares glowers red.

If you have difficulty discerning color, try using binoculars.

Scorpius is one of the few constellations that looks like its name. You can recognize the entire constellation for the graceful fishhook shape of the stars of the Scorpion’s Tail.

Antares is the bright star at the Heart of the Scorpion. To be sure the object you’re seeing is Saturn, look for three closely-knit, modestly-bright stars to the west (right) of Antares. These stars are an asterism – or very recognizable star pattern – known as the Crown of the Scorpion.

In 2016, the golden light near the Crown of the Scorpion will be the planet Saturn.

Not to scale.  An opposition takes place when Earth goes between Saturn and the sun.  Via theakumalian.com

Not to scale. An opposition takes place when Earth goes between Saturn and the sun. Via theakumalian.com

Saturn is closest, brightest, opposite the sun on June 3. On June 3, 2016, we will go between the sun and Saturn. Astronomers call this an opposition of Saturn, because the planet will appear opposite the sun in our sky, rising in the east as the sun sets in the west.

June 3 – the opposition date – features the ringed planet at its closest to Earth and brightest in our sky. Saturn is the faintest of the bright planets. It’s still pretty bright, but, normally, you wouldn’t pick it out from among the stars. But around May or June of 2016, you can view Saturn fairly easily, because Saturn appears as bright as the brightest stars. Saturn shines a even brighter than Antares, the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius.

Because we will pass Saturn – the sixth planet outward from the sun – from an inside track around the sun, the ringed planet will look as if it’s going backward (retrograde) in front of the fixed stars of the Zodiac for several months.

In 2016, Saturn retrogrades from March 25 until August 13.

By the way, Saturn’s yearly opposition happens about two weeks later with each passing year. The 2009 opposition was on March 8. The 2010 opposition was on March 21. The 2011 opposition was on April 3. The 2012 opposition was April 15. The 2013 opposition was April 28. The 2014 opposition happened on May 10. The 2015 opposition occurred on May 23, and the 2016 opposition will be on June 3.

So you see that Saturn – like most objects in the heavens – is really very orderly in its comings and goings in our sky. Once you learn to identify it, you can recognize it from year to year.

View larger. | Golden Saturn as seen by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1980

View larger. | Golden Saturn as seen by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1980

Where will Saturn be in the second half of 2016? Saturn is nearly always somewhere in our sky, for most of every year. In the second half 2016, as Earth moves away from Saturn in its orbit, we’ll see Saturn shift its location in our evening sky. After Saturn’s opposition in June 2016, Saturn will appear farther to the west as darkness falls each month thereafter. Finally, in November of 2016, Saturn will disappear in the western twilight after sunset.

One last thing, for you telescope users: from February 11, 1996, to September 4, 2009, the south side of Saturn’s rings was facing in Earth’s direction. Since then, we’ve been looking at the north side of the rings. Throughout the most of 2016, the rings are inclined at about 26o from edge-on. The inclination will increase to a maximum of nearly 27o by the end of the year.

Saturn yearly observations comparison by Abhijit Juvekar. The rings are even more open in 2016, at a inclination of 26o on the opposition date of June 3, 2016.

Saturn yearly observations comparison by Abhijit Juvekar. The rings are even more open in 2016, at a inclination of 26o on the opposition date of June 3, 2016.

Saturn basics. Earth travels around the sun once a year, while Saturn takes about 29-and-a-half years to orbit the sun once. Earth’s orbit is smaller, and we move faster than this outer planet. So once a year, we pass between Saturn and the sun and gain another lap on the planet.

You might realize from what I just said that Saturn is relatively slow-moving in orbit and, therefore, slow to change its position against the background stars. That’s why the early stargazers called it the oldest of the old sheep.

Like all planets, Saturn is lovely to gaze upon. Its golden color is fascinatingly reminiscent of wonderful spacecraft photos of Saturn. It’s a real place, after all, not just a light in the sky. Plus, Saturn’s brightness waxes and wanes in a subtle way throughout every year, making it fun to watch.

Can you see the rings of Saturn if you look with the eye alone? No, you need a small telescope to see the rings. But, to the unaided eye, Saturn will appear as a bright golden “star” … very beautiful.

And unlike the twinkling stars, Saturn will shine with a steady light. That might help you identify it.

Saturn eclipsing the sun, as seen by Cassini spacecraft in 2006. More about this image. Credit: CICLOPS, JPL, ESA, NASA

Bottom line: The best time for viewing the planet Saturn in 2016 comes in June and July. The ringed planet will be at its brightest and in the sky all night, or nearly so. Why? Because we’ll pass between Saturn and the sun on June 3. Saturn can be found near the Crown of the Scorpion and the star Antares. Enjoy!