Saturn | @ Opposition May 23 2015

What does it mean for a planet to be at opposition? From our Earth perspective, the Sun and the planet are in opposite directions in the sky. The moment the Sun sets in the west, the planet rises in the east. Saturday May 23 is opposition day for Saturn. The illustration below shows a thin yellow line from the Sun through Earth to Saturn. Visit to play with the interactive for this image.


Dominic Ford | In-The-Sky

Current View

If you have clear skies the next several evenings, look toward the low southeast sky at 10 pm. You should see this star pattern. Saturn is near the top of the group. A small telescope will allow you to see the rings.


The current view of Saturn through a high quality telescope will look very much like this. The tilt of the planet axis exposes the full extent of the rings, the gap between the rings, and the orb of Saturn. This image is linked if you want to see more by Damian Peach.

Views of the Solar System | Damian Peach


Ring Crossing View

The Cassini spacecraft has been at Saturn since 2004 examining the rings, planet, and moons. The direction and size of Cassini’s orbit is changed at times to take advantage of available views of these various features. It is currently in orbit in the same plane as the rings, but not within the rings. In January 2007, Cassini was in an orbit that was more polar, or perpendicular to the ring plane. As it moved from south (below) of the ring plane to north (above) of the rings, it captured a sequence of 34 images of the rings over a 12 hour time interval. The first views were of the directly sunlit side of the rings. Then Cassini moved to view the unlit side. The images were sequenced into this video. It is best viewed full screen and in HD. Click the gear tool ✱ in the lower right once the video starts to get HD. Watch for the passage of moons and the incredible thinness of the ring plane. Replay as needed. Explanation details are available at this site.


Over the Top View

As Saturn has emerged to the current view, the north pole has become more visible. Cassini has flown over that region and returned some interesting features at the pole. Notice the hexagonal cloud pattern with a round center.


NASA | Cassini


A much higher resolution view reveals more intricate cloud patterns and a structure that looks much like the eye of a hurricane. Click to embiggen.


NASA | Cassini


In April 2013, Jet Propulsion Laboratory released this video about that mysterious hurricane-like structure at the north pole of Saturn. The narrator says Cassini has been in orbit 9 years. It is now 11 years. Cassini is now in orbit along the ring plane, not over the poles. The video is less than two minutes long and gives some amazing views and explanation.


I hope you have enjoyed these views of Saturn. Try to get outside to see for real. Someone you know might have a telescope you can use. Call your local astronomy club. Here is a list. They might be having a star party soon you can attend. They always love showing others views like this so they can show off their cool equipment. Enjoy.


9 thoughts on “Saturn | @ Opposition May 23 2015

  1. It’s OPPOSITE DAY!! Go OUT! Look at Saturn! If you’ve never seen the rings, this is such a great opportunity. Be sure to watch the videos above, especially the one showing the sequence of ring images. Amazing stuff.

  2. I enjoyed the post, but I’ll not be enjoying any view of Saturn: not tonight, and maybe not for several nights to come. A warm front’s backed over us from the south, and it’s pretty soupy out there.

    On the other hand, I do believe my attempt to view Saturn solved a mystery. Every now and then, for a couple of weeks, always at night, Dixie Rose has turned into a wild cat: running around the house, growling little growls, fluffing her tail out. When I was coming back in tonight, I saw “something” on the floor below. It turned out to be a raccoon, happily eating a pile of catfood outside a neighbor’s door. There was another little pile of catfood at the apartment directly across. I suspect that coon’s been prowling, and that’s what’s had her so energized.

    I ought to tell those people some of my raccoon tales, before they get themselves in real trouble. 🙂

    • I imagine that is what is causing the cat to be upset. The raccoon is making the rounds. Lots to eat.

      We watched a Nature show last month about cats studied in some southeast English small town. They outfitted 50 cats with GPS collars and some with small video cameras to track their behavior. Turns out many of the cats made rounds to the homes of other cats specifically to eat the food of the other cats and nothing else. They had regular routines each night.

      Raccoons can carry a nasty virus harmful to cats and humans. Their feces should be avoided. I would tell the cat owners to clean up the food opportunities so the raccoons aren’t having such an easy time of it.

      Sorry about the clouds. We got a good view last night of both Saturn and Jupiter. Cloudy tonite and for the next several days. 😦

  3. I see that Dschubba means the forehead [of the scorpion]. The name Akrab, which likewise comes from Arabic, represents the whole scorpion (and alacrán is one of the Spanish words for scorpion, the other being escorpión). As for Niyat, that apparently means artery. All this is a reminder of the great astronomers the Arabs once were.

I'd like to hear from you.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.