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Best time to see Saturn is here!

Tonight – or any night in late May 2016 – watch for the ringed planet Saturn. It’s found near the brilliant planet Mars (which is closest to us on May 30 for the first time in two years) and the star Antares. It’s not just Mars that’s closest around now. Saturn also comes closest to Earth for the year on Friday, June 3 – only four days after Mars’ closest approach on Monday.

Both Mars and Saturn are coming up fairly early in the evening now. Mars has been awesome for weeks, and the best time to observe Saturn in all of 2016 is also upon us.

Earth will pass between Saturn and the sun on June 3, 2016. That is Saturn’s yearly opposition, and it marks the middle of the best time of year to see this planet.

After coming up in the eastern part of the sky in early evening, Saturn will continue to climb upward throughout the evening hours. This world will soar to its highest spot in the sky after the midnight hour. It’ll be low in the west at morning dawn.

As with all the planets, you’ll find Saturn along the same path that the sun and moon travel across the sky. Look generally eastward after nightfall. Try looking first for brilliant Mars in the east at nightfall or early evening, and then look for fainter Saturn and the star Antares below Mars.

Golden Saturn is fainter than Mars but brighter that the ruddy-colored Antares.

I know the focus has been on Mars in recent weeks. But start watching Saturn now! You’ll enjoy it and Mars for many weeks to come.

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Saturn yearly observations comparison by Abhijit Juvekar.

Saturn’s rings are still very open in 2016. The rings are inclined by 26-26.8 degrees with respect to Earth throughout this year, with their 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.

Saturn is the most distant world we can easily see with unaided eye. It shines as brightly as as a bright star. But it does not shine as brightly as evening’s two brightest planets, Mars and Jupiter.

As Earth moves around the sun, the Earth’s change of position will cause Mars, Saturn and Antares, the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion, to rise some four minutes earlier daily, or one-half hour earlier each week. Best of all, you can use Mars to locate Saturn for months to come. In fact, Mars and Saturn will stage their conjunction in the evening sky on August 25, 2016, whereby both worlds will fit within a single binocular field.

When the Earth finally passes in between Saturn and the sun on the night of June 2-3, Earth will come closest to Saturn for the year, and Saturn, in turn, will shine at its brilliant best for 2016.

So, in less a week from now, the planet Saturn will be at opposition (opposite the sun in Earth’s sky). Saturn will be out all night long at that juncture, rising in the east around sunset and setting in the west around sunrise. Note the beautiful contrast of color between golden Saturn, red Mars and ruddy Antares! It won’t be too much longer before Saturn stays out from dusk until dawn.

Bottom line: Earth will pass between the sun and Saturn on June 3, 2016. The best time of year to see the planet is here.

Read more: Give me 5 minutes and I’ll give you Saturn in 2016

A planisphere is virtually indispensable for beginning stargazers. Order your EarthSky planisphere today.

Bruce McClure