Saturn makes its closest approach to the Earth in 30 years this week

Discussion in 'Current Events' started by medea, Dec 17, 2002.

  1. medea macrumors 68030


    Aug 4, 2002
    Madison, Wi
    The ringed planet is now brighter than all other stars except for Sirius and Canopus. And it is tilted in the Earth's direction, giving observers using even simple telescopes an impressive view of the rings.

    Even if one misses the closest encounter on Tuesday, the celestial show continues until early 2003.

    "Saturn and Earth will be close together for many weeks," notes said NASA astronomer Mitzi Adams in an online science bulletin. "So get out your telescope. Even a small one will do."

    Saturn closes to within 750 million miles (1.2 billion kilometers) of Earth on Tuesday. The maximum distance between the two planets is about 1 billion miles ( nearly 1.7 billion kilometers).

    Saturn and sun

    Currently, Saturn and the sun are on opposite sides of the Earth, bringing Saturn close to our planet and making it appear brighter than usual to terrestrial observers.

    Known as opposition, the situation takes place about every 13 months. But the current one is the best in three decades because Saturn happens to be making its closest approach to the sun in its lopsided orbit.

    "Saturn's 30-year orbit is not a perfect circle. It has the shape of an ellipse with one side 6 percent closer to the sun than the other," Adams said. "When Saturn is closer to the sun, it's also closer to Earth, and we get a great view."

    Saturn looks exceptionally bright now in part because its rings, potent sunlight reflectors, are tilted in the Earth's direction. The circular debris bands disappear when viewed edge-on.

    Seven years ago, when Saturn passed comparatively close to Earth, the rings were flat, making them nearly undetectable.

    The reason for the changes in the appearance of the rings is that they are tilted 27 degrees in relation to Saturn's orbit. They seem to teeter as the planet goes around the sun.

    To find Saturn, sky watchers in the Northern Hemisphere should look eastward after sunset. It is a bright yellow point among the stars in the constellation Taurus. Observers in the Southern Hemisphere should look to the northeast to find the constellation.

    At midnight, the ringed planet is almost straight overhead. Another visual helper is the moon, which early this week is near Saturn in the sky.
  2. Mr. Anderson Moderator emeritus

    Mr. Anderson

    Nov 1, 2001
    Its not bad and even with a small telescope you can see that its more than a planet (rings make it odd shaped).

    Jupiter, which rises later, is brighter though.


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