Tonight – or any night in late May, 2016 – start watching for the ringed planet Saturn, which is found near the planet Mars and the star Antares. Saturn comes closest to Earth for the year on Friday, June 3 – only five days after Mars’ closest approach to Earth on Monday, May 30. It’s coming up fairly early in the evening now, and its best time to be observed in all of 2016 is nearly upon us.
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. On the night of May 29, look 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.
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. 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 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. The best time of year to see the planet is nearly here.