Astronomy Essentials

Saturn at opposition – and brightest – on August 26-27

Saturn at oppposition: Green ecliptic line, constellation Aquarius at top left, Capricornus at right. Saturn and star Formalhaut are visible too.
As evening falls, watch for bright golden Saturn just above the southeastern horizon. Saturn’s opposition, when we fly between Saturn and the sun, is at 8 UTC on August 27 (3 a.m. CDT). So it’s in a wonderful place to see now, ascending in the east in the evening, as seen from around the globe. Saturn at opposition is in the dim constellation Aquarius the Water Bearer. In addition, if you have a dark sky, you can see the dim but pretty constellation Capricornus the Sea-goat. It has the shape of an arrowhead. Indeed, you can see them crossing the sky all night, traveling along the ecliptic, the same path the sun travels during the day. Also, the bright star Fomalhaut is nearby. Chart via John Jardine Goss/ EarthSky.

Earth flies between the sun and Saturn on August 26-27, 2023, placing the ringed planet opposite the sun – at opposition – in our sky.

Saturn at opposition

When and where to watch in 2023: Around its August 26-27 opposition, Saturn is rising in the east at sunset and is visible all night. Afterward, for the rest of 2023, Saturn will remain visible in the evening sky. It’ll finally disappear in the sunset glare by mid-February 2024.
Date and time of opposition: 8 UTC on August 27, 2023 (3 a.m. CDT).
Brightness at opposition: At opposition, the ringed planet shines at its brightest for 2023 at magnitude 0.4.
Distance from Earth at opposition: Around opposition, Saturn is at its shortest distance from Earth for 2023, at 73 light-minutes (about 8.8 astronomical units).
Constellation at opposition: Aquarius the Water Bearer.
Disk size at opposition: Saturn’s disk size is largest around opposition. At its largest, Saturn will appear 19 arcseconds across.
Ring tilt at opposition: At opposition, Saturn’s rings are tilted by 8.1 degrees, relative to earthly viewers. The rings will span 44.2 arcseconds.
Note: Opposition marks the middle of the best time of the year to see an outer planet. Even though you can’t see Saturn’s rings through binoculars, it’ll appear through binoculars as a bright oval-shaped disk. But any small backyard telescope will show the rings.

Simple diagram of orbits, showing Earth between an outer planet and the sun.
Opposition happens when Earth flies between an outer planet, like Saturn, and the sun. Illustration via Heavens-Above. Used with permission.

For precise sun and Saturn rising times at your location:

Old Farmer’s Almanac (U.S. and Canada) (worldwide).
Stellarium-Web (online planetarium program)

Two views of tan, banded, ringed planet Saturn on black background. Left-side one is bigger.
A comparison of the apparent size of Saturn at opposition (August 26-27, 2023) and when it was most distant from the Earth at solar conjunction (February 16, 2023). Image via Dominic Ford/ Used with permission.

August 29 and 30 evenings: Moon near Saturn

Two positions of moon along green ecliptic line with Saturn and constellation Capricornus.
On the evenings of August 29 and 30, 2023, the bright moon will pass Saturn. The moon will be full on the overnight of August 30-31, making it the 2nd full moon of August 2023. In fact, it’s a monthly blue moon – the 2nd full moon in a month – and a supermoon. It’s the closest (biggest) full supermoon in 2023. It may not look bigger to the eye, but it’ll sure look brighter! The constellation Capricornus the Sea-goat is nearby. Chart via John Jardine Goss/ EarthSky.
Telescopic view of pastel banded Saturn with rings and and some of its moons.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Sona Shahani Shukla in Delhi, India, captured this image of Saturn and some of its moons on August 14, 2023, and wrote: “This magnificent planet shining bright in the skies is a fortnight away from its annual opposition.” Thank you, Sona!

How often is Saturn at opposition?

As a matter of fact, Saturn comes to opposition nearly every earthly year. A year is the length of time Earth takes to travel once around the sun. But Saturn’s orbit around the sun takes 29.4 Earth years. So each year we have to travel slightly farther in orbit to catch up to, and pass, Saturn again. Thus Saturn oppositions are roughly 378 days apart and Saturn’s opposition comes about two weeks later each year.

2022 Saturn opposition: August 14
2023 Saturn opposition: August 27
2024 Saturn opposition: September 8
2025 Saturn opposition: September 25

Large, tan banded Saturn with small Earth next to it and arrows indicating size.
Contrasting the size of Saturn and its rings with our planet Earth. Image via Hubble Heritage. Used with permission.

Saturn events in 2022 and 2023

February 16, 2023: Saturn in conjunction with the sun
June 17, 2023: Saturn enters retrograde motion
August 27, 2023: Saturn at opposition
November 4, 2023: Saturn ends retrograde motion

Banded Saturn and its bright rings, 4 labeled moons and text annotations.
Saturn and its rings as seen by Hubble on September 12, 2021. Image via ESA/ NASA/ Amy Simon (NASA-GSFC)/ Michael H. Wong (UC Berkeley)/ Alyssa Pagan (STScI)/ Hubblesite. Used with permission.

View from above the solar system, August 2023

Gray and white circle with sun at center, planets around, and zodiac names on outer edge.
View larger. | Heliocentric view of solar system, August 2023. Chart via Guy Ottewell. Used with permission.

Saturn is a world of rings and moons

Saturn is the 6th planet outward from the sun. People in ancient times saw it as a golden “star” that moved among the fixed stars: a wanderer. That’s because, it wasn’t until astronomers began using telescopes in the 17th century when they saw its rings.

Then, in the 1950s, astronomers spoke of Saturn as having three rings. But spacecraft in the later part of the 20th century showed vastly more detail. In fact, they revealed that Saturn has thousands of thin, finely detailed rings made of tiny chunks of ice. Also, Saturn has at least 83 moons with confirmed orbits. Yet only 63 of Saturn’s moons have names, with the other 20 moons awaiting confirmation. Furthermore, only 13 of them have diameters larger than 30 miles (about 50 kilometers).

Certainly, Saturn is truly a wondrous world of rings and moons. Usually, it’s everyone’s favorite celestial object to gaze at through a small telescope. So if there’s a public astronomy night near you this month … go!

More great pictures of Saturn

Solid black circle against pale crescent with vertical black line, edge view of rings.
The Cassini spacecraft, which orbited Saturn from 2004 to 2017, obtained almost unbelievably stunning images of the planet. Here, a moon, Rhea, occults – or passes in front of – a crescent Saturn, with the rings (black line) seen edge on. Image via Cassini Imaging Team/ SSI/ ESA/ NASA-JPL. Used with permission.See more images of Saturn from Cassini.
3 Saturns stacked with years labeled. Rings tilted flatter on top Saturn.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Sona Shahani Shukla in New Delhi, India, captured these images of Saturn in 2020, 2021 and 2022 and wrote: “Here’s a compilation of images from each year showing the tilt of Saturn’s rings from our perspective.” Thank you, Sona! It’s true. At most, Saturn’s rings tilt nearly 27 degrees relative to the ecliptic, or Earth-sun plane. So that’s the widest possible tilt we see. But we see the rings’ tilt change a bit throughout every year. And they change dramatically over about a 15-year cycle. In 2023, at the August opposition, their tilt with respect to Earth will be 8.1 degrees. The rings will be edge on in 2025.

Bottom line: Saturn’s 2023 opposition comes on August 26-27, when Earth will sweep between the sun and Saturn, placing the ringed planet opposite the sun in our sky. Saturn will be in an excellent place to observe throughout August, September and October 2023.

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Saturn’s opposition in 2023: Fun and easy things to see

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August 26, 2023
Astronomy Essentials

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