Saturn will shine down on stargazers on June 3, as the gas giant will be easily seen by people around the globe. This show is just part of a three-planet display happening in the night sky.
Saturn may easily be seen using just the naked eye, but the second-largest planet in the solar system is also an ideal target for backyard telescopes and binoculars. Even a small telescope will reveal the rings of Saturn, and the largest moon in the system, Titan, may even be seen.
In addition to Saturn, Jupiter and Mars are also visible to the amateur astronomers throughout the northern hemisphere. A small amateur telescope will show some details in the Jovian atmosphere as well as its four largest moons.
"This month Saturn reaches opposition, when Saturn, Earth and the sun are in a straight line with Earth in the middle, providing the best and closest views of the ringed beauty and several of its moons. You'll be able to make out cloud bands on Saturn, in delicate shades of cream and butterscotch. They're fainter than the bands of Jupiter," Jane Houston Jones reported for NASA.
The rings of Saturn appear at various angles over time as seen from Earth. Currently, these distinctive planetary features are seen at an angle of 26 degrees around the maximum. This provides a rich view of the rings and allows amateur astronomers a chance to glimpse the Cassini Division, the largest gap in Saturn's rings. Partly because the rings are at such a steep angle relative to Earth, the planet appears 2.5 times brighter than normal.
"Right now, the rings should appear extra bright due to the Seeliger Effect, also referred to as the 'opposition surge.' For a short time around opposition, as Earth lines up with Saturn with the Sun at our back, each individual chunk of ice in the rings hides its shadow, contributing to their overall brightening," Bob King wrote for Sky and Telescope.
All three planets will be seen during the evening, not long after sunset. Of the three, Jupiter is by far the brightest, and whitest. Saturn appears slightly dimmer than Jupiter and is closer to a cream color.
To view Saturn from locations around the United States, sky watchers should head outside, preferably in a dark area, and look to the east, searching for a bright amber-colored light, which does not flicker like a star.
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