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SHORT FEATURES

Western Slope Skies - 5/9/14

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Saturn at Opposition

Last month on the program we learned that only the five superior planets can be at opposition. The fast movement of our planet’s orbit brings us between those five planets and the sun every year. In April, Mars was at opposition. This month, on Saturday, May 10th, its Saturn’s turn to shine!

Saturn will rise at sunset and be visible all night long. To find Saturn, wait until the sky is dark.  Look first for the bright orange planet near the moon on the night of May 10. That’s Mars! Using the moon and Mars find the bright star Spica below them. Continue on a line from the moon and Spica toward the horizon. Saturn will be the bright object low in the east.

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Earth travels around the sun once a year, while Saturn takes about 29-and-a-half years to orbit the sun once. Our planet’s orbit is smaller, and we move faster than this outer giant planet. So once a year, we pass between Saturn and the sun.  As a result, Saturn will shine brilliantly in our sky throughout May and much of this Spring and Summer.

While Saturn will be as close to Earth as it will get for the year on May 10th to 11th, it will still be 827 million miles away from us.   It is best seen in a telescope. Ask any amateur astronomer what's the most beautiful thing in the sky, and most of them will say Saturn.  My first view of the ringed planet was what turned me on to astronomy many years ago. Maybe it will do the same for you?