The planet Saturn is coming up fairly early in the evening now. You’ll find it rising in the southeast sky a few hours after sunset. On the night of May 4, the waning gibbous moon rises first, at nightfall or early evening, and then Saturn follows the moon into the sky, perhaps an hour or so thereafter. The precise rising times for the moon and Saturn vary worldwide, but both of these worlds should be up by mid-evening, at which time you might even see the ruddy star Antares below Saturn.
Saturn is the most distant world that you can easily see with unaided eye. It shines as brightly as as a bright star. But it does not shine as brightly as the brightest star Sirius, or the other two brilliant planets that come out at nightfall: Jupiter and Venus.
After coming up above the southeast horizon this 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-southwest sky at morning dawn. On the night of May 4-5, watch Saturn chase the moon, and for Antares to chase Saturn across the nighttime sky.
As Earth moves around the sun, the Earth’s change of position will cause 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. When the Earth finally passes in between Saturn and the sun on the night of May 22-23, Earth will come closest to Saturn for the year, and Saturn, in turn, will shine at its brilliant best for 2015.
So, in less than three weeks 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. Once the moon has dropped put of the evening sky in a few more days, note the beautiful contrast of color between golden Saturn and contrast ruddy Antares! It won’t be too much longer before Saturn stays out from dusk till dawn.
Bottom line: Earth will pass between the sun and Saturn on May 23. The best time of year to see the planet is nearly here.