Western Slope Skies 4/26/2013

Apr 26, 2013

Saturn…The ringed planet. The sixth planet from the Sun; second largest in the Solar System behind Jupiter; and the one that evokes the most vivid images in our thoughts. It is an unforgettable sight, even in a small telescope.  

From now until early May, Saturn will be the brightest it has been for more than 5 years. It rises in the east as the Sun sets and will be visible all night long.

Saturn is a giant gas planet, composed mostly of hydrogen and helium. The rings, which make the planet so fascinating to view, are made up mostly of water-ice particles and dust. They are 150,000 miles across, but are less than 100 feet thick. When the rings are tilted toward us, sunlight reflects brilliantly from these particles. For the next four years, as the tilting increases they will become even more visible.Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, can be readily seen in binoculars.

It is interesting because it is the only natural satellite known to have a dense atmosphere, and the only object found, other than Earth, that seems to have stable bodies of surface liquid…even though the liquid is methane. From home, you will need at least a small telescope to get a decent view of Saturn and it’s rings. But the best is to contact an amateur astronomy group, and/or look for outreaches listed on the KVNF calendar or in your local newspaper.

I still remember the first time I saw Saturn through a telescope, and couldn’t believe it was real!