Tonight – or any night in early May, 2015 – start watching for the ringed planet, Saturn. It’s coming up fairly early in the evening now, and its best time to be observed in all of 2015 is nearly upon us. the next few evenings are a grand time to learn to identify this planet, as the moon is passing near it in the night sky. Learn to recognize Saturn on the nights of May 4, 5 and 6, 2015 … and enjoy it for weeks to come.
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 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 later. 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 also see the ruddy star Antares below Saturn.
Earth will pass between Saturn and the sun on May 22-23, 2015. That is Saturn’s yearly opposition, and it marks the middle of the best time of year to see this planet. So start watching it now! You’ll enjoy it for many weeks to come.
After coming up in the eastern part of the sky 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 at morning dawn.
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 the brightest star Sirius, or the other two brilliant planets that come out at nightfall: Jupiter and Venus.
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 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 May 23. The best time of year to see the planet is nearly here.