Astronomy Essentials

Saturn at opposition on August 14

White dots of different sizes for Saturn and constellation Capricornus with green line showing ecliptic.
Saturn at opposition in 2022, in front of the faint constellation Capricornus the Sea Goat. Watch for Capricornus in a dark sky. It doesn’t look at all like a sea goat, but it does look like an arrowhead. Bright, golden Saturn disturbs the arrowhead’s graceful shape in 2022. On and around August 14, Saturn is rising in the east at sunset, visible all night. Chart via John Jardine Goss / EarthSky.

Earth flies between the sun and Saturn on August 14, 2022, placing the ringed planet opposite the sun – at opposition – in our sky.

Saturn at opposition

When and where to watch in 2022: Around its August 14 opposition, Saturn is rising in the east at sunset and visible all night. Afterward, for the rest of 2022, Saturn will remain visible in the evening sky. It’ll finally disappear in the sunset glare around January 2023.
Date and time of opposition: 17 UTC on August 14, 2022.
Brightness at opposition: At opposition, the ringed planet shines at its brightest for 2022, at magnitude 0.3.
Distance from Earth at opposition: Around opposition, Saturn is at its least distance from Earth for 2022, at 73 light-minutes (about 8.8 astronomical units).
Constellation at opposition: Capricornus the Sea Goat.
Disk size at opposition: Saturn’s disk size is largest around opposition. At its largest, Saturn will appear 18.76 arcseconds across.
Ring tilt at opposition: At opposition, Saturn’s rings are tilted by 13.9 degrees, relative to earthly viewers.
Note: Opposition marks the middle of the best time of year to see an outer planet. You can’t see Saturn’s rings through binoculars. But any small backyard telescope will reveal them. And, around its August 2022 opposition, Saturn will appear through binoculars as a bright oval-shaped disk.

Diagram 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.

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 labeled images of Saturn, the one on the left appreciably larger.
A comparison of the apparent size of Saturn at opposition (August 14, 2022) and when it is most distant from the Earth at solar conjunction (next on February 16, 2023). Image via Dominic Ford’s

How often is Saturn at opposition?

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.

2021 Saturn opposition: August 2
2022 Saturn opposition: August 14
2023 Saturn opposition: August 27
2024 Saturn opposition: September 8
2025 Saturn opposition: September 25

Saturn with small Earth next to it, Saturn with rings is 21 Earth diameters across.
Contrasting the size of Saturn and its rings with our planet Earth. Image via Hubble Heritage.

Saturn events in 2022 and early 2023

August 14, 2022: Saturn at opposition
October 23, 2022: Saturn ends retrograde motion
February 16, 2023: Saturn in conjunction with the sun (most behind the sun as seen from Earth).

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.

Saturn is a world of rings and moons

Saturn is the sixth 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 latter part of the 20th century showed vastly more detail. In fact, they revealed that Saturn actually has thousands of thin, finely detailed rings made of tiny chunks of ice. Also, Saturn has at least 82 moons with confirmed orbits. Yet only 53 of Saturn’s moons have names, with the other 29 moons waiting confirmation. Furthermore, only 13 have diameters larger than 30 miles (about 50 kilometers).

Certainly, Saturn is truly a wondrous world of rings and moons. Obviously, 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. See more images of Saturn from Cassini.
3 Saturns stacked with years labeled. Rings tilted flatter at top.
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 2022, at the August opposition, their tilt with respect to Earth will be 13.9 degrees. The rings will be edge on in 2025.

Bottom line: Saturn’s 2022 opposition comes on August 14, 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 2022.

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August 14, 2022
Astronomy Essentials

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