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Best time to see Saturn is near!

Tonight – or any night for the next several months – watch for the ringed planet Saturn. It’s found in the vicinity of the bright star Antares, the Heart of the Scorpion. Both Saturn and Antares are coming up over the southeast horizon by early-to-mid evening in late May 2017. Click here for an almanac.

As Earth moves around the sun, the Earth’s change of position will cause Saturn and Antares to rise about four minutes earlier with each passing day or about one-half hour earlier with each passing week. After a few more weeks, you’ll actually see Saturn and Antares lighting up the sky at right at nightfall.

Earth will pass between Saturn and the sun on June 15, 2017. 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 sometime this evening, Saturn and Antares will continue to climb upward throughout the evening hours. The two will soar to their highest spot in the sky after the midnight hour. They’ll be low in the west at morning dawn. To distinguish the two, look for golden Saturn to shine with a steadier light than sparkly, ruddy-colored Antares.

The focus has been on Jupiter in recent weeks. But start watching Saturn now! You’ll enjoy it and Saturn for months to come.

From the Nortrhern Hemisphere, look south at nightfall to see the planet Jupiter, the star Spica and the constellation Corvus the Crow. At evening from the Southern Hemisphere, look for Jupiter and Spica high overhead or high in the northern sky.

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Saturn yearly observations comparison by Abhijit Juvekar.

Saturn’s rings are very open in 2017. The rings are inclined by about 27 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, a touch brighter than the first-magnitude star Antares. But Saturn does not come close to matching the brilliance of the evening’s brightest planet, Jupiter.

When the Earth finally passes in between Saturn and the sun on the night of June 15, Earth will come closest to Saturn for the year, and Saturn, in turn, will shine at its brilliant best for 2017.

So, a little more than two 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. Note the beautiful contrast of color between golden Saturn 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 15, 2017. The best time of year to see the planet is near.

Read more: Give me 5 minutes and I’ll give you Saturn in 2017

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

Bruce McClure

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