Tonight – May 27, 2017 – or any night for the next several months, watch for the ringed planet Saturn. You’ll find it near the bright star Antares, Heart of the Scorpion in the constellation Scorpius. Both Saturn and Antares rising into the eastern half of the sky (southeast as viewed from the Northern Hemisphere) by early-to-mid evening in late May 2017. Click here for an almanac recommendation; it can help you find the planets’ rising times in your sky.
It won’t be too much longer before Saturn stays out from dusk until dawn. As Earth moves around the sun, our planet’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, Saturn and Antares will be ascending in the east as the sun sets in the west.
That’s because 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, red Antares. Be sure to note the beautiful color contrast between the planet and star!
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.
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.
Bruce McClure has served as lead writer for EarthSky's popular Tonight pages since 2004. He's a sundial aficionado, whose love for the heavens has taken him to Lake Titicaca in Bolivia and sailing in the North Atlantic, where he earned his celestial navigation certificate through the School of Ocean Sailing and Navigation. He also writes and hosts public astronomy programs and planetarium programs in and around his home in upstate New York.