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| Astronomy Essentials | Space on Apr 29, 2014

Give me five minutes and I’ll give you Saturn in 2014

Best time to see Saturn in 2014 is here! Instructions for finding this beautiful golden planet … here.

The best time to see the planet Saturn in 2014 is here! In May 2014, the ringed planet is at its brightest and out all night long. Saturn is the sixth planet outward from the sun and farthest world that’s easily visible to the unaided eye. On May 10, we pass between Saturn and the sun. You need a telescope to see the planet’s wide, encircling rings. 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 Saturn in 2014.

When can I see Saturn in 2014?

To find Saturn in 2014, look first for a planet and two bright stars: Mars and Spica, and Antares.

Saturn is closest, brightest, opposite the sun on May 10.

Where will Saturn be in the second half of 2014?

Saturn basics.

Here's one of the latest views of Saturn by Cassini.  This composite image was snapped by the Cassini spacecraft on May 4, 2014 and processed by Val Klavans. More details: on Flickr

Here’s one of the latest views of Saturn by the Cassini spacecraft. Cassini acquired the data – and Val Klavans processed it into this composite image May 4, 2014. More details on Flickr

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

When can I see Saturn in 2014? Saturn has been visible throughout 2014, but it’s been inconspicuously placed in the late-night or early-morning sky. In May, Saturn begins rising at sunset.

May is the best month in 2014 to view Saturn. The planet will be out nearly all night. The reason is that we’ll pass between Saturn and the sun on May 10. 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.

Saturn is near a modestly bright star in 2014, Zubenelgenubi in the constellation Libra. But it’s the two bright stars on either side of it – some distance away – that can help you locate the planet.

In 2014, Saturn is in front of Libra near Libra's two brightest stars, Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali.  Even-brighter Antares is to one side of Saturn.  Two objects - Mars and star Spica - are to the other side.  Photo by EarthSky Facebook friend Annie Lewis in Madrid, Spain.  Thank you, Annie!

In 2014, Saturn is in front of the constellation Libra near Libra’s two moderately bright stars, Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali. Very bright star Antares is to one side of Saturn. Two other bright objects – red Mars and blue-white star Spica – are to the other side. Photo taken in March 2013 by EarthSky Facebook friend Annie Lewis in Madrid, Spain. Thank you, Annie!

Look at this chart, and find the stars Antares and Spica. They are bright. Saturn is between them in 2014.

Look for the stars Antares and Spica along the ecliptic, or path of the sun and moon. They are bright. Saturn is between them in 2014. Instructions for finding them below.

Extend the Big Dipper handle to arc to the star Arcturus, spike the star Spica - and, in 2014, locate the red planet Mars.

View larger. | To find Saturn, first find Spica. Extend the curve in the Big Dipper’s handle until you come to Spica and Mars.

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 find Saturn, next find Antares. To be sure you’ve found Antares, look for its constellation, Scorpius the Scorpion, one of the few constellations that looks like its namesake. The bright red star Antares marks the Scorpion’s Heart. Antares shines to one side of Saturn on the sky’s dome in 2014. Mars and Spica are on the other side of Saturn.

To find Saturn in 2014, look first for a planet and two bright stars: Mars and Spica, and Antares. Practiced sky watchers will locate the constellation Libra – and in 2014, the planet Saturn – in between the star Antares and Spica. The planet Mars is near Spica on the sky’s dome.

Saturn is more or less equidistant from these two bright stars in the first half of 2014. See chart above.

So how can you recognize Spica (with Mars nearby) and Antares? This year, 2014, Spica is made more prominent by the fact that the planet Mars is found close to it. What’s more, Mars shines at its best for the year one month before Saturn does, in April 2014. So Mars will be bright! And it’s distinctly reddish in color, while Spica is blue-white. Those clues should help you identify Spica.

There’s also a sure-fire way to identify Spica, using the Big Dipper as a guide. Look for the Big Dipper in the northern sky. Follow the curve in the Dipper’s handle far across the sky, toward the south. You’ll eventually come to Spica and Mars. They’ll be noticeable for being colorful, bright and close together!

The planet Saturn will shine well below the star Spica and the planet Mars in the April and May evening sky. Become familiar with Mars and Spica, starting this month, to help prepare you for Saturn’s moment of glory in May!

If you’re handy with a planisphere, you can estimate Spica’s and Antares’ positions in your sky – then use these stars to locate Saturn in the constellation Libra the Scales. Remember to star-hop to Spica and Mars from the Big Dipper. And remember that Antares is the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion, one of the few constellations that looks like the creature for which it was named.

Drive a spike to Spica – and the planet Mars – in 2014

Scott MacNeill captured this photo of Saturn in early May 2013.  He writes:

Scott MacNeill captured this photo of Saturn the last time it was at opposition, in early May 2014. He wrote: “… at Frosty Drew Observatory on a super clear night. This photograph showcases the Cassini Division and the elusive Encke Gap.” Thank you, Scott!

At opposition on May 10, 2014, Saturn will be opposite the sun from Earth, rising in the east when the sun sets in the west. Image via theakumalian.com

Saturn is closest, brightest, opposite the sun on May 10. Around May 10, 2014, 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.

Around May 10 – the opposition date – is when the ringed planet will be 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 of 2014, you can view Saturn fairly easily, because Saturn appears as bright as the brightest stars. Saturn shines a touch brighter than Spica and Antares, the brightest stars in the constellations Vigo and Scorpius, respectively.

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 2014, Saturn retrogrades from March 3 until July 21.

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 happens on May 10 and the 2015 opposition will occur on May 23. 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.

Where will Saturn be in the second half of 2014? Saturn is nearly always somewhere in our sky, for most of every year. In the second half 2014, 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 May 2014, Saturn will appear farther to the west as darkness falls each month thereafter. Finally, in late October or November of 2014, 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. In February and March 2014, the rings are inclined at nearly 23o from edge-on. The inclination will shrink to a minimum of 21o in July and will increase to a maximum of 24o by the end of the year.

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

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.

Bottom line: The best time for viewing the planet Saturn in 2014 will be in May. 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 May 10. Saturn can be found in the constellation Libra, in between the 1st-magnitude stars Antares and Spica. Enjoy!