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Give me 5 minutes. I’ll give you Saturn in 2008.

This post is taken from http://www.earthsky.org/article/give-me-5-minutes-ill-give-you-saturn

Saturn's rings in natural color

Nine days before it entered orbit, the Cassini spacecraft captured this exquisite natural color view of Saturn’s rings.

I want you to see Saturn at its best in February and March, 2008.

In its yearly orbit around the sun, our planet Earth goes between Saturn and the sun every year. In 2007, that happened on February 10. In 2008, this event – called an “opposition” of Saturn – will happen on February 24. That makes February and March of 2008 the best months for seeing this most amazing and beautiful of planets. Will you be ready? Save this article!

Can you see the rings of Saturn if you look with the eye alone? No.

But you can see this bright golden world with your unaided eye. It will appear as a bright golden “star” … very beautiful!

And since Saturn moves only slowly with respect to the true stars, once you notice the starry pattern around Saturn, you can spot this planet for months on end.

Okay. How can you see Saturn?

In late February, 2008 … first, think about the fact that – when Earth goes between the sun and Saturn – Saturn appears opposite the sun in our sky. So, if you’re looking for Saturn in the evening, you should be facing east, with your back to the sunset direction.

To see Saturn, go outside after nightfall in late February or early March, 2008. Stand facing east (your back to the place where the sun went down). Remember … around the time that Earth goes between the sun and Saturn, Saturn appears opposite the sun in our sky. So if the sun has just gone down, Saturn will be on the horizon, probably too low in the sky to see. So wait until mid-evening or so, when it’s good and dark, and Saturn is higher in the sky.

What makes it possible to pick Saturn out from the multitude of glittering stars?

Saturn in 2008

In 2008, Saturn is still moving in front of the constellation Leo, not far from Leo’s brightest star, Regulus. You’ll see this pair of objects in the east in the evening in late February and March 2008.

The answer is that Saturn will be bright. In fact, every year around the time we go between the sun and Saturn, the ringed planet is at its closest to Earth and brightest in our sky.

In late February and early March of 2008, Saturn will be the brightest “star” ascending in the east after sunset. So if you outside in the evening – looking in the direction opposite the sunset – you can’t miss seeing it.

What’s more, Saturn is near a recognizable pattern of stars in 2008. Well … hopefully recognizable, once you tune your eyes to noticing patterns on the sky’s dome. This pattern has the shape of a backwards question mark. It’s part of the constellation Leo the Lion, and it’s known as “the Sickle” in Leo. The brightest star in the Sickle is blue-white Regulus, whose name means “little king.”

If you see an object you think is Saturn, look for this star, Regulus, nearby. Notice the color contrast between Regulus and Saturn. Regulus is blue-white. Saturn is golden.

Once you start looking carefully, you might even notice that Regulus is twinkling, while Saturn is shining more steadily. You know the old folk wisdom about stars twinkling and planets shining with a steady light? It’s true.

In March, 2008, and beyond … After February 24 – when Earth goes between Saturn and the sun – Earth will be fleeing ahead of Saturn in the race of the planets around the sun. That fact will place Saturn higher in the east at sunset every evening, beginning in March 2008. Saturn will begin appearing fainter throughout March than it was in late February. But it’ll still be near Regulus, in the constellation Leo, as our chart shows.

The ringed planet Saturn is the sixth planet outward from the sun.

It takes nearly 30 years to orbit the sun. Earth is the third planet, and our orbit takes only one year. That’s why we go between the sun and Saturn nearly every year.

Oppositions of Saturn happen about two weeks later with each passing year. The 2007 opposition was on February 10, 2007. The 2006 opposition of Saturn was on January 27, 2006.

Beautiful Saturn

Saturn, as seen by the Cassini spacecraft.

Check out more favorite Saturn pictures:

Saturn’s cloudtops, viewed at an angle

A gas giant planet, rings and shadows

Saturn backlit, Earth from a billion miles away

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