One of the most spectacular looking planets in our Solar System has to be Saturn with it’s beautiful rings. If you want to know how to find Saturn in the night sky, then please read on.
Also known as the jewel of the night sky, Saturn is the 6th planet from the Sun. It is the furthest away planet we can spot with the naked eye, but to get a glimpse of it’s brilliant rings you’ll need to use a telescope.
Its distance from the Sun ranges from 1.35 to 1.51 billion kilometers, or 839 to 939 million miles, and at its closest to Earth 1.21 billion kilometers or 1.55 million miles. In relative terms, think of a basket ball and a marble 2.5 km apart.
It is what’s known as a gas giant which is made up of mostly hydrogen and helium, but it does have a rocky core at its center.
If you look close enough, it has a golden color. This is caused by ammonia crystals forming in the upper atmosphere which creates a haze that covers the entire planet.
If your telescope is powerful enough you may even spot some of its impressive number of 62 moons.
How big is Saturn?
Saturn is a bit wider round the equator than it is around its poles. Compared to our Earth, it’s roughly 9.45 of our diameter, and 8.6 times our polar diameter.
You could fit 763 Earths into Saturn.
When is best to see it?
Although Saturn has been visible all year so far appearing late into the night, from late May and throughout June, Saturn will be visible all night long – rising in the east, climbing to the highest point at midnight, and setting at sunrise.
On May 23rd, we will be directly between Saturn and the Sun – this is called opposition. After this date, Saturn will reach the highest point in the night sky 4 minutes earlier each day, until it recedes from the sunrise. It will still be visible at sunset throughout the rest of the year.
How to find Saturn in the night sky
Look after sunset for the reddish glowing star Antares in the Scorpius constellation in the south east – it may be more visible later in the night, but will show earlier and earlier after sunset as the days pass. Look to the right (west) of Antares, and you should be able to see three to four modestly bright stars close together – these are known as the Crown of the Scorpion.
The golden light closeby will be the planet Saturn. If you can’t see the difference in color with your naked eye, try with a pair of binoculars or a telescope.
How often does Saturn orbit the Sun?
Our planet revolves around the Sun once every year. Saturn takes its time compared to us though, travelling at 9.96km/s which is less than 1/3rd of the speed of the Earth. As it’s much further out in the solar system it has a much longer journey to complete than us, taking 30 of our Earth years to complete its orbit. Because of this seemingly slow pace across our sky, early astronomers and stargazers referred to it as “the oldest of the old sheep”.
Can you see Saturn’s rings?
Only if you have a telescope – you won’t see the rings with the naked eye. However it will appears as a steady light, not like the twinkling stars around it – so that may make it easier to spot.
Have you been able to spot Saturn this year? Let me know below.