Enjoying EarthSky? Subscribe.

150,531 subscribers and counting ...

By and in
| Astronomy Essentials | Space on May 21, 2015

Give me five minutes and I’ll give you Saturn in 2015

Best time to see Saturn in 2015 is here! Instructions for finding this beautiful golden planet … here.

The best time to see the planet Saturn in 2015 is here! On May 22-23, 2015, Earth passes between this planet and the sun. As a result, 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. 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. Clouded out this week? Never fear. Follow the links below to learn more about seeing Saturn throughout 2015.

When can I see Saturn in 2015?

To find Saturn in 2015, look for the star Antares and the Crown of the Scorpion.

Saturn is closest, brightest, opposite the sun on May 23.

Where will Saturn be in the second half of 2015?

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 a view of Saturn by the Cassini spacecraft. Cassini acquired the data – and Val Klavans processed it into this composite image – in May, 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 2015? Saturn has been visible throughout 2015, but it’s been inconspicuously placed in the late-night or early-morning sky. In late May, Saturn begins rising at sunset.

May and June present especially good months in 2015 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 May 23. 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 lodges fairly close to a bright zodiacal star throughout 2015, Antares in the constellation Scorpius. Look for three closely-knit, modestly-bright stars to the west (right) of Antares to view the very recognizable Crown of the Scorpion. The nearby golden light in 2015 will be the planet Saturn.

Last year, in 2014, Saturn was farther west upon the Zodiac, residing in front of the constellation Libra the Scales, as shown on Annie Lewis’ photo below, taken in March 2014. Note the star Antares and the Crown of the Scorpion closer to the horizon.

Saturn is in Scorpius for virtually all of 2015.  In May 2015, it is near the little arc of three stars above Scorpius' brightest star Antares.  Look for reddish Antares, and the arc of three stars near it.  Golden Saturn will also be there.

Saturn is in Scorpius for virtually all of 2015. In May 2015, it is near the little arc of three stars above Scorpius’ brightest star Antares. Look for reddish Antares, and the arc of three stars near it. Golden Saturn will also be there.

Last year (2014), Saturn was in front of Libra near Libra's two brightest stars, Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali.  Even-brighter Antares was to one side of Saturn.  In 2015, Saturn is at the top of Scorpius, not far from Antares.  Why the difference?  Earth takes a year to orbit the sun.  Saturn takes 30 years.  So Saturn moves entirely around our sky, with respect to the stars, once every 30 years.  Photo by EarthSky Facebook friend Annie Lewis in Madrid, Spain.  Thank you, Annie!

Last year (2014), Saturn was in front of Libra near Libra’s two brightest stars, Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali. Even-brighter Antares was to one side of Saturn. In 2015, Saturn is at the top of Scorpius, not far from Antares. Why the difference? Earth takes a year to orbit the sun. Saturn takes 30 years. So Saturn moves entirely around our sky, with respect to the stars, once every 30 years. Photo by EarthSky Facebook friend Annie Lewis in Madrid, Spain. Thank you, Annie!

In May 2015, you may have to wait until mid-to-late evening to see the ruddy star Antares and the Crown of the Scorpion below Saturn. By the time June arrives, Saturn and Antares - and the intervening Scorpion's Crown - will be seen above the horizon at nightfall.

In May 2015, you may have to wait until mid-to-late evening to see the ruddy star Antares and the Crown of the Scorpion below Saturn. By the time June arrives, Saturn and Antares – and the intervening Scorpion’s Crown – will be seen above the horizon at nightfall.

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 to the west of Antares.

To find Saturn in 2015, look for the star Antares and the Crown of the Scorpion. Practiced sky watchers will rely upon the bright ruddy star Antares and the Crown of the Scorpion to verify that they are indeed looking at the planet Saturn throughout 2015. 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 your luck with binoculars.

Saturn rises first, followed by the Crown of the Scorpion and then Antares. So, in May, you may have to wait until early-to-mid evening to finally see Antares climbing above the southeast horizon. By the time the month of June is upon us, Saturn and Antares will both be above the horizon at nightfall. From then on, you’ll see Saturn and Antares adorning the evening sky until October 2015.

So how can you recognize Saturn in May? If you have no idea of where to look, use the moon to help you locate Saturn and Antares on May 4, 5 and 6. Although the moon will move onward in its monthly journey through the constellations of the Zodiac, Saturn and Antares will return to the same place in the sky about 4 minutes earlier daily, one-half hour earlier weekly or two hours earlier monthly. Once the moon has left the evening sky, make friends with the Crown of the Scorpion. This group of stars offers a sure-fire way to verify that the nearby bright golden light is the ringed planet Saturn!

If you’re handy with a planisphere, you can estimate Antares’ position in your sky – then use this star to locate Saturn.

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 23. On May 23, 2015, 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.

May 23 – 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 of 2015, you can view Saturn fairly easily, because Saturn appears as bright as the brightest stars. Saturn shines a touch 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 2015, Saturn retrogrades (moves away from Antares and the Crown of the Scorpion) from March 14 until August 2.

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 will occur on May 23, an the 2016 opposition 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.

Where will Saturn be in the second half of 2015? Saturn is nearly always somewhere in our sky, for most of every year. In the second half 2015, 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 2015, 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 May and June 2015, the rings are inclined at more than 24o from edge-on. The inclination will shrink to a minimum of 24o in August and will increase to a maximum of 26o 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.

Saturn yearly observations comparison by Abhijit Juvekar.

Saturn’s rings are still very open in 2015. At opposition on May 22-23, Saturn’s rings will be inclined by 24.4 degrees with respect to Earth, with the north face visible. Saturn’s moons will be arrayed out around the planet in the same plane as the rings. Saturn yearly comparison by Abhijit Juvekar.

Bottom line: The best time for viewing the planet Saturn in 2015 comes in May and June. 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 23. Saturn can be found near the Crown of the Scorpion and the star Antares. Enjoy!