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Finding Saturn in your Local Night Sky with AstroViewer

Position of Saturn's five brightest Moons

Saturn Conjunctions with other Planets, 2014-2020

Moon near Saturn Dates, 2017

Saturn Through the Telescope

The Position of Saturn, 2006-2013

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Where is Saturn now? This star chart shows the path of Saturn through the constellations of Libra, Scorpius, Ophiuchus, Sagittarius and Capricornus from 2014 to 2022 (Copyright Martin J Powell 2013)

The path of Saturn against the background stars of Libra, Scorpius, Ophiuchus, Sagittarius and Capricornus from November 2013 to February 2023, with positions marked on the first day of each month. The dates are colour-coded by year; a quick-glance legend is towards the lower left (e.g. all 2017 positions are shown in orange). Periods when the planet is unobservable (i.e. when it is too close to the Sun, or passes behind it) are indicated by a dashed line; hence Saturn becomes lost from view (in the evening sky) in early December 2017 and becomes visible again (in the morning sky) in early January 2018. The star map applies to observers in the Northern hemisphere (i.e. North is up); for the Southern hemisphere view, click here. The faintest stars on the map have an apparent magnitude of about +4.8. Printer-friendly versions of this chart are available for Northern and Southern hemisphere views. Astronomical co-ordinates of Right Ascension (longitude, measured Eastwards in hrs:mins from the First Point of Aries) and Declination (latitude, measured in degrees North or South of the celestial equator) are marked around the border of the chart. Click here to see a 'clean' star map of the area (i.e. without planet path); observers may wish to use the 'clean' star map as an aid to plotting the planet's position on a specific night - in which case, a printable version can be found here. A night sky photograph of Sagittarius and its surrounding constellations can be seen below.

The chart shows the changing shape of Saturn's apparent looping formation as it moves through the zodiac, from a Northward-facing loop in Libra in 2014 to a Southward-facing 'hybrid' in Capricornus in 2022. For a fuller description of the planets' apparent loops against the background stars, refer to the Planet Movements page.

The Position of Saturn in the Night Sky, 2014 to 2022

by Martin J Powell

Having spent a period of just over three years in the constellation of Virgo, the Virgin, Saturn moved South-eastwards into Libra, the Balance in late August 2013. From this time through to the early 2020s the planet occupies the constellations of the Southern zodiac stretching through to Capricornus, the Sea Goat. The ringed planet last occupied this region of the zodiac between 1984 and 1993.

At the close of 2013 and throughout 2014, Saturn describes a Northward-facing loop in central Libra, positioned to the North-east of the constellation's second-brightest star Zuben Elgenubi (Greek lower-case letter 'alpha' Lib or Alpha Librae, apparent magnitude +2.8). In 2015 the planet describes another North-facing loop on the border with Scorpius, the Scorpion. Its Eastern stationary point is reached in mid-March 2015, positioned within the narrow Scorpian 'corridor' to the NNW of Antares (Greek lower-case letter 'alpha' Sco or Alpha Scorpii, mag. ~+1.0). The planet retrogrades (moves East to West) back into Libra in mid-May, reaching its Western stationary point in early August 2015. It then regains direct motion (West to East) and re-enters Scorpius in mid-October 2015. The following month the planet approaches to within 0.02 (1.5 arcminutes, where 1' = 1/60th of a degree) of the interesting quadruple star named Jabbah (Greek lower-case letter 'nu' Sco or Nu Scorpii, mag. +4.0) in Northern Scorpius.

Saturn imaged by Trevor Barry in April 2013 (Image: Trevor Barry)

Saturn imaged by Australian amateur astronomer Trevor Barry through his 16-inch Newtonian reflector telescope on 26th April 2013, two days after the planet's opposition in North-western Libra. South is up and East is to the right (Image: Trevor Barry)

Saturn enters Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer, in late November 2015 where it describes a Northward-facing, flattened loop to the South-west of the star Sabik (Greek lower-case letter 'eta' Oph or Eta Ophiuchi, mag. +2.5). A 'hybrid' formation (half loop, half zig-zag) is described in South-eastern Ophiuchus during 2017, with a three-month excursion into Sagittarius, the Archer. The planet reaches its Eastern stationary point in early April, in Western Sagittarius, a short distance North-west of the Lagoon Nebula (M8 or NGC 6523). Saturn retrogrades into Ophiuchus in mid-May 2017, reaching its Western stationary point North of the star Theta Ophiuchi (Greek lower-case letter 'theta' Oph, mag. +3.2) in late August 2017. After resuming direct motion the planet enters Sagittarius for the longer term in mid-November of that year. During 2018 the planet describes a Northward-facing hybrid formation to the North of the constellation's well-known Teapot asterism, attaining its most Southerly declination (angle relative to the celestial equator) of -22 46' 49" (-22.78 in decimal form) in late October 2018. Hereafter Saturn begins a slow Northward ascent through the zodiac, which will culminate when it is positioned in Gemini in 2033.

Whilst in the Eastern half of Sagittarius, Saturn describes two classic 'zig-zag' formations. The first takes place during 2019, when the planet is situated to the North-east of the Archer's second-brightest star Nunki (Greek lower-case letter 'sigma' Sgr or Sigma Sagittarii, mag. +2.0). In early February of that year, Saturn passes just 0.4 (24') South of the star Omicron Sagittarii (Greek lower-case letter 'omicron' Sgr, mag. +3.7). In mid-February 2020, Saturn crosses the ecliptic in a Southward direction, the second 'zig-zag' formation being described immediately afterwards, on the border between Sagittarius and Capricornus. The planet is positioned a little to the North of the eighth-magnitude globular cluster M75 (NGC 6864) at this time. Saturn reaches its Eastern stationary point in Western Capricornus in mid-May 2020 before retrograding back into Sagittarius in early July, where the planet reaches its Western stationary point in late September.

Having now moved to the South of the ecliptic, Saturn's loops switch from Northward-facing to Southward-facing. After spending some three years in Sagittarius, Saturn enters Capricornus for the longer term in mid-December 2020, where its Northward ascent of the zodiac becomes more evident. The planet describes two Southward-facing hybrid formations here, one in 2021 and another in 2022. In May 2021 Saturn reaches its Eastern stationary point just 0.6 (37') West of the fourth-magnitude star Greek lower-case letter 'theta' Cap (Theta Capricornus). January 2022 sees the planet pass just 0.25 (15') South of the same star. The planet leaves Capricornus and enters Aquarius, the Water Carrier, in February 2023 and exits the star chart shortly thereafter.

Saturn reaches opposition to the Sun (when it is closest to the Earth and brightest in the sky for the year) every 378 days on average, i.e. about 13 days later in each successive year. Around opposition, Saturn is due South at local midnight in the Northern hemisphere (due North at local midnight in the Southern hemisphere). Details of the nine Saturnian oppositions covered by the above star map are given in the table below. Note how the planet's appearance changes slightly at each opposition, the ring system displaying varying tilt angles to the Earth as it orbits the Sun (for more details, see the diagram of Saturn's orbit). Like the other Solar System planets, Saturn's apparent size (its angular diameter as seen from the Earth) varies slightly at each opposition because its orbit is slightly elliptical.

The dates on which Saturn reaches superior conjunction (i.e. when it passes behind the Sun as seen from the Earth) are also shown in the table. The planet is not normally visible from the Earth for about two weeks on either side of these dates.

Apparition

Period

Opposition Circumstances

Superior

Conjunction

Opposition

Date

Constellation

Declination

Apparent

Magnitude

Diameter (arcsecs)

Ring

Tilt

View from

Earth

(North up)

Distance (AU)*

Globe

Ring

from Earth

from Sun

2013/14

2014 May 10

Astrological symbol of Libra

Lib

-15.3

+0.2

18".6

42".3

+21.7

Saturn at opposition in 2014 (Image modified from NASA's Solar System Simulator)

8.8997

9.9084

2014 Nov 18

2014/15

2015 May 23

Astrological symbol of Libra

Lib

-18.3

+0.1

18".5

41".9

+24.4

Saturn at opposition in 2015 (Image modified from NASA's Solar System Simulator)

8.9667

9.9784

2015 Nov 29

2015/16

2016 Jun 3

 

Oph

-20.5

+0.1

18".4

41".7

+26.0

Saturn at opposition in 2016 (Image modified from NASA's Solar System Simulator)

9.0149

10.0288

2016 Dec 10

2016/17

2017 Jun 15

 

Oph

-21.9

+0.0

18".4

41".6

+26.6

Saturn at opposition in 2017 (Image modified from NASA's Solar System Simulator)

9.0427

10.0581

2017 Dec 21

2017/19

2018 Jun 27

Astrological symbol of Sagittarius

Sgr

-22.4

+0.0

18".3

41".6

+26.0

Saturn at opposition in 2018 (Image modified from NASA's Solar System Simulator)

9.0488

10.0652

2019 Jan 2

2019/20

2019 Jul 9

Astrological symbol of Sagittarius

Sgr

-22.0

+0.0

18".4

41".7

+24.3

Saturn at opposition in 2019 (Image modified from NASA's Solar System Simulator)

9.0329

10.0495

2020 Jan 13

2020/21

2020 Jul 20

Astrological symbol of Sagittarius

Sgr

-20.6

+0.1

18".5

41".8

+21.6

Saturn at opposition in 2020 (Image modified from NASA's Solar System Simulator)

8.9948

10.0109

2021 Jan 24

2021/22

2021 Aug 2

Astrological symbol of Capricornus

Cap

-18.4

+0.1

18".6

42".1

+18.1

Saturn at opposition in 2021 (Image modified from NASA's Solar System Simulator)

8.9353

9.9500

2022 Feb 4

2022/23

2022 Aug 14

Astrological symbol of Capricornus

Cap

-15.4

+0.2

18".7

42".5

+13.9

Saturn at opposition in 2022 (Image modified from NASA's Solar System Simulator)

8.8569

9.8697

2023 Feb 16

* 1 AU (Astronomical Unit) = 149,597,870 kms (92,955,807 statute miles)

Saturn opposition data for the period 2014 to 2022. The Declination is the angle of the planet to the North (+) or South (-) of the celestial equator; on the star chart, it represents the planet's angular distance above or below the blue line. The angular diameter (or apparent size) of the planet as seen from Earth is given in arcseconds (where 1 arcsecond = 1/3600th of a degree). Note that Saturn's distance at each opposition slowly increases through to 2018, at which time it crosses the aphelion point in its orbit, causing its angular diameter to shrink slightly year by year. From 2019 onwards, each successive opposition brings it slightly closer to the Earth, increasing its apparent size each time. Saturn's apparent magnitude (brightness) reached a low point when the Earth passed through the planet's ring-plane in 2009. It began to brighten again thereafter and will reach a 'peak' in 2018 when the rings appear almost fully open. The Ring Tilt (the ring plane opening angle to the Earth) is positive (+) when Saturn's Northern hemisphere is tipped towards the Earth and negative (-) when the planet's Southern hemisphere is tipped towards the Earth; the maximum value it can attain is 27.0. The Ring Tilt values were obtained from the SETI Institute's Saturn Ephemeris Generator 2.5. All other data was obtained from the software 'Redshift', the 'SkyGazer Ephemeris' utility and the 'Cielo e Terra' website. The Saturn images were modified by the author from NASA's Solar System Simulator.

The rings will be fully on display again in 2017, when the planet is in Ophiuchus and ideally placed for Southern hemisphere observers. Although it will then be near its greatest possible distance from the Earth, and at its lowest possible viewing altitude for Northern hemisphere observers, Saturn's presentation of its Northern hemisphere and ring face will nonetheless be an impressive sight. The planet reaches aphelion (its furthest orbital point from the Sun) in Sagittarius in April 2018, when it is 10.065 Astronomical Units from the Sun (1,505 million kms or 935 million statute miles).

By a stroke of good luck on nature's part, Saturn's perihelion (its closest orbital point to the Sun) takes place only a short while after the planet's Southern pole is tilted at its greatest angle towards the Earth, so at these times - namely, every 29 years - we are treated to a splendid, 'close-up' view of both the globe and the ring system when seen through Earthbound telescopes. For Northern hemisphere observers the situation is even better: whenever it is near perihelion, Saturn rides high in the sky on the Taurus/Gemini border, giving the best possible observing conditions. Saturn last passed perihelion in July 2003 and will next pass it in December 2032 (when it will be in Gemini); it will then be 9.015 AU (838 million miles or 1,348 million kms) from the Sun. The planet will reach its most Northerly point in the zodiac some six months later, in April 2033.

[Terms in yellow italics are explained in greater detail in an associated article describing planetary movements in the night sky.]

 

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Saturn Conjunctions with other Planets, August 2014 to December 2020

Viewed from the orbiting Earth, whenever two planets appear to pass each other in the night sky (a line-of-sight effect) the event is known as a planetary conjunction or an appulse. However, not all planetary conjunctions will be visible from the Earth because many of them take place too close to the Sun. Furthermore, not all of them will be seen from across the world; the observers' latitude will affect the altitude (angle above the horizon) at which the two planets are seen at the time of the event, and the local season will affect the sky brightness at that particular time. A flat, unobstructed horizon will normally be required to observe most of them.

The majority of conjunctions involving Saturn are not particularly spectacular to view because the planet is usually positioned far away from the Earth - and is therefore not especially bright - whenever they occur. Those involving Venus will always take place at solar elongations of less than 47 from the Sun, whilst those involving Mercury will always take place at less than about 27 from the Sun. In both of these instances twilight is often a problem, the lighter sky diminishing the visual impact of the conjunction (Saturn looking like an ordinary, pale-yellow star).

Saturn's most interesting conjunctions take place when the planet is within a few months of opposition - and is therefore very bright - at which times they involve either Jupiter or Mars; these events are however very rare. Most conjunctions between Saturn and Jupiter (or Saturn and Mars) occur at elongations of less than 90, when Saturn is far from its brightest in any given apparition. Between 2014 and 2020, for example, only two conjunctions are positioned more than 90 from the Sun, the majority taking place at solar elongations of less than 45. Throughout the period, Saturn shines at a relatively dim apparent magnitude of around +0.6.

When Saturn's rings are well-presented to the Earth, the planet's apparent magnitude brightens significantly. A conjunction between Saturn and Mars in Southern Ophiuchus on August 25th 2016 - when the rings are close to their maximum opening angle - will see Saturn shine at magnitude +0.5 (one half-magnitude fainter than at opposition) and Mars at magnitude -0.4. With both planets positioned some 97 to the East of the Sun, this conjunction will be easily seen against a dark Western sky after sunset.

Because the ringed planet is traversing the Southern zodiac during the period in question, it follows that the majority of conjunctions will be best seen from the Southern hemisphere. Even where the majority of the Northern hemisphere has a relatively good view it will almost always be difficult or impossible to observe from higher Northern latitudes.

The rarest of the conjunctions during the period is that between Saturn and Jupiter in December 2020. Conjunctions between these two planets were known historically as Great Conjunctions and they take place about every twenty years. However, they are not always best placed for viewing, sometimes occurring at narrow solar elongations. Perhaps the best-known of the 'Great Conjunctions' happened in the year 7 BC, in the constellation of Pisces, the Fishes, an event which has been considered a possible explanation for the Star of Bethlehem mentioned in the New Testament of the Bible. Specifically, this was a triple conjunction - a series of three conjunctions which took place during that year - which, it is argued, was such an unusual chain of events that the Magi (the 'wise men' or astrologers) gave it a special significance. Critics of this theory say, among other things, that the two planets were too far apart to attract any particular attention, their angular separation at best having been about 1 (about two apparent Full Moon diameters).

The 'Great Conjunction' of December 2020 takes place on the day of Earth's winter solstice, the planets being only 30 away from the Sun in the evening sky. Whilst not ideally placed for viewing and being well past their opposition dates, Saturn and Jupiter are separated by only 6 arcminutes (0.1), making them both visible in the field-of-view of most telescopic eyepieces. After 2020, the two planets will meet again in November 2040 in the constellation of Virgo, the Virgin.

The following table details the conjunctions involving Saturn which take place at solar elongations of greater than 15. In several cases, other planets and/or stars are also in the vicinity and these are detailed. Note that, because some of the conjunctions occur in twilight, the planets involved may not appear as bright as their listed magnitude suggests.

Table listing the planetary conjunctions involving Saturn which take place between 2014 and 2020 (Copyright Martin J Powell, 2014)

Saturn conjunctions with other planets from August 2014 to December 2020 (note that there are no observable planetary conjunctions involving Saturn during 2015). The column headed 'UT' is the Universal Time (equivalent to GMT) of the conjunction (in hrs : mins). The separation (column 'Sep') is the angular distance between the two planets, measured relative to Saturn, hence on 2018 Apr 2, Mars is positioned 1.2 South of Saturn at the time shown. The 'Fav. Hem' column shows the Hemisphere in which the conjunction will be best observed (Northern, Southern and/or Equatorial). The expression 'Not high N Lats' indicates that observers at latitudes further North than about 50N will find the conjunction difficult or impossible to observe because of low altitude and/or bright twilight.

In the 'When Visible' column, a distinction is made between Dawn/Morning visibility and Dusk/Evening visibility; the terms Dawn/Dusk refer specifically to the twilight period before sunrise/after sunset, whilst the terms Evening/Morning refer to the period after darkness falls/before twilight begins (some conjunctions take place in darkness, others do not, depending upon latitude). The 'Con' column shows the constellation in which the planets are positioned at the time of the conjunction.

To find the direction in which the conjunction will be seen, note down the constellation in which the planets are located ('Con' column) on the required date and find the constellation's rising direction (for Dawn/Morning apparitions) or setting direction (for Dusk/Evening apparitions) for your particular latitude in the Rise-Set direction table.

Although any given conjunction takes place at a particular instant in time, it is worth pointing out that, because of the planets' relatively slow daily motions, such events are interesting to observe for several days both before and after the actual conjunction date.

There are in fact two methods of defining a planetary conjunction date: one is measured in Right Ascension (i.e. perpendicular to the celestial equator) and the other is measured along the ecliptic, which is inclined at 23 to the Earth's equatorial plane (this is due to the tilt of the Earth's axis in space). An animation showing how conjunction dates are determined by each method can be found on the Jupiter-Uranus 2010-11 triple conjunction page. Although conjunction dates measured along the ecliptic are technically more accurate (separations between planets can be significantly closer) the Right Ascension method is the more commonly used, and it is the one which is adopted here.

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Martin J Powell is a participant in the Amazon Europe S. r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de and Amazon.fr

 

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Constellations of the Southern Zodiac: Photographs

Photograph showing the constellation of Capricornus, the Sea Goat. Click for a full-size photo (Copyright Martin J Powell, 2005)

 Photograph showing the constellation of Sagittarius and other constellations in the vicinity of the Southern zodiac. Click for a full-size photo (Copyright Martin J Powell, 2005)

Photograph showing the constellation of Libra, the Balance and the Northern region of Scorpius, the Scorpion. Click for a full-size photo (Copyright Martin J Powell, 2006)

Constellations of the Southern Zodiac  Three photographs showing the region of the night sky through which Saturn passes between 2014 and 2022. The chart on the right shows the areas of the star chart which are covered by each of the photographs (move your pointer over the images to identify the constellations and click on the images for their full-size versions).

The faintest stars visible in each photo are slightly different in each case. For the Capricornus photo, the faintest stars visible are about magnitude +7.1; for the Sagittarius photo, the faintest stars are about magnitude +8.1 and for the Libra & Northern Scorpius photo the magnitude limit is about +7.

Note that the photographs do not have the same scale because of the varying camera lens settings and image resolutions.

Chart showing the areas of the 2014-22 star chart which are covered by the photographs. Dashed lines indicate that the photograph extends beyond the boundary of the star chart

 

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Moon near Saturn Dates, 2017

On one or two days in each month, the Moon can be used as our celestial guide to help in locating Saturn in the sky. Use the following table to determine on which dates to see the Moon in the vicinity of the planet:

Date Range

(World)

Conjunction (Geocentric)

Solar Elong.

Moon Phase

Date & Time

Sep. & Dir.

2017

Jan 23/24

Jan 24, 10:18 UT

3.6 S

41W

Waning Crescent

Feb 20/21

Feb 20, 23:24 UT

3.6 S

66W

Waning Crescent

Mar 19/20

Mar 20, 10:29 UT

3.4 S

92W

Last Quarter

Apr 16/17

Apr 16, 18:19 UT

3.2 S

119W

Waning Gibbous

May 13/14

May 13, 22:46 UT

3.1 S

146W

Waning Gibbous

Jun 9/10

Jun 10, 01:04 UT

3.1 S

174W

Full

Jul 6/7

Jul 7, 03:12 UT

3.2 S

158E

Waxing Gibbous

Aug 2/3

Aug 3, 07:10 UT

3.4 S

130E

Waxing Gibbous

Aug 30/31

Aug 30, 14:03 UT

3.5 S

104E

Waxing Gibbous

Sep 26/27

Sep 26, 23:49 UT

3.5 S

78E

Waxing Crescent

Oct 23/24

Oct 24, 11:35 UT

3.3 S

53E

Waxing Crescent

Nov 20/21

Nov 21, 00:16 UT

3.0 S

28E

Waxing Crescent

 A close approach of the Moon to the planet Saturn on March 2nd 2007 (Photo: Copyright Martin J. Powell 2007)

The Moon made several close approaches to Saturn during 2007, such as on this occasion, photographed by the author on March 2nd, when the Moon came to within 1 of the planet (geocentric measurement). The photo was obtained by pointing a tripod-mounted digital SLR camera through the eyepiece of an 8-inch reflecting telescope set at 81x magnification. Since the Moon is many times brighter than Saturn, two separate photos were required in order to capture the Moon and Saturn at their correct exposures. From the author's location in the South-western United Kingdom, the Moon was seen to pass just to the North of the planet (note that the image is inverted, since it was taken through an astronomical telescope).

The Moon also occasionally passes in front of Saturn - in an event called a lunar occultation - when seen from various parts of the world. Numerous such events took place in 2007 and 2013-14; the next series of lunar occultations involving Saturn will take place from late 2018.

Moon near Saturn dates for 2017. No dates are shown for December because Saturn is too close to the Sun to view during this month. The Date Range shows the range of dates worldwide (allowing for Time Zone differences across East and West hemispheres). Note that the dates, times and separations at conjunction (i.e. when the two bodies are at the same Right Ascension) are measured from the Earth's centre (geocentric) and not from the Earth's surface (times are given in Universal Time [UT], equivalent to GMT). The Sep. & Dir. column gives the angular distance (separation) and direction of the planet relative to the Moon, e.g. on October 24th at 11:35 UT, Saturn is positioned 3.3 South of the Moon's centre. The Moon Phase shows whether the Moon is waxing (between New Moon and Full Moon), waning (between Full Moon and New Moon), at crescent phase (less than half of the lunar disk illuminated) or gibbous phase (more than half but less than fully illuminated).

Moon near Saturn dates can also be viewed for 2014, 2015 and 2016.

The Moon moves relatively quickly against the background stars (in an Eastward direction, at about its own angular width [0.5] each hour, or about 12.2 per day) and because it is relatively close to the Earth, an effect called parallax causes it to appear in a slightly different position (against the background stars) when seen from any two locations on the globe at any given instant; the further apart the locations, the greater the Moon's apparent displacement against the background stars. Therefore, for any given date and time listed in the table, the Moon will appear closer to Saturn when seen from some locations than from others. For this reason, the dates shown in the table should be used only for general guidance.

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Position of Saturn's Five Brightest Moons

 

Saturn's five brightest moons (satellites) - namely Titan (magnitude +8.3 at opposition), Rhea (+9.7), Tethys (+10.2), Dione (+10.4) and Enceladus (+11.7) - can readily be seen through telescopes, but only Titan (Saturn's largest moon) is visible through binoculars. The moons are seen to change their position in relation to each other from one night to the next.

Because of Saturn's relatively high axial tilt (26.7 to the plane of its orbit) the Saturnian moons are mostly seen to follow apparent elliptical paths around the planet when viewed from the Earth (this is in contrast to, say, Jupiter's shallow axial tilt (3.1), which causes its moons to present a more-or-less linear motion when seen from the Earth - see Jupiter's moon positions). However, the motion of Saturn's moons does appear more-or-less linear whenever the Earth crosses through the ring-plane of the planet, as it did in 2009. For about a year on either side of the ring-plane crossing date, transits (when a moon or its shadow passes across the planet's disk), occultations (when a moon passes behind the planet's disk) and eclipses (when a moon enters the planet's shadow) can be observed through telescopes.

The following Flash program shows the current position of Saturn's five brightest moons (based on your computer's clock and Time Zone settings):

 

The Positions of Saturn's five brightest satellites in relation to the planet (the graphic requires the Adobe Flash Player plug-in to display correctly). Binocular and terrestrial telescope users in the Northern hemisphere should use the default 'Erect Image' (North up, East to the left) setting; Southern hemisphere observers using this equipment will need to click on the 'Inverted' (North down, West to the left) button.

Users of astronomical telescopes in the Northern hemisphere will need to use the 'Inverted' option to match the view in their telescope, whilst those in the Southern hemisphere should use the default ('Erect Image') setting. The 'Mirror Reversed' button applies to astronomical telescopes with a star diagonal attached.

Enter the required values for Date (in the form mm/dd/yyyy) and Time and click on 'Recalculate' to see the position of the moons for any date and time between January 1st 1900 AD and December 31, 2100 AD. The Timezone offset from UT is determined by the settings in your web browser.

Times of all events in the program are given in Universal Time (UT) which is equivalent to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

The 'Saturn's Moons' program by John Bartucci is available as a standalone, executable (exe) file which can be downloaded from the The Wilderness Center Astronomy Club website.

A Java applet showing all of the above moons with an additional three - namely Iapetus (which varies between magnitudes +10.2 and +11.9 at opposition), Mimas (+12.9 at opposition) and Hyperion (+14.2 at opposition) - can be found at the BAA's Computing Section website.

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Finding Saturn in Your Local Night Sky

Where in the night sky should I look for Saturn tonight? In which direction and how high up will it be?

The location of a planet (or any other celestial body) in your local night sky depends upon several factors: the constellation in which it is positioned, your geographical latitude and longitude and the date and time at which you observe. To find a planet in the night sky at any particular date and time, we must know two things: a direction in which to look along the observer's horizon (eg. Southeast, East-Southeast) and an angle to look above the horizon (known as altitude or elevation).

During 2014, when it is positioned in the constellation of Libra, Northern hemisphere observers can attempt to find Saturn using The Big Dipper (or The Plough) asterism as a starting point for locating the nearby constellation of Virgo. The planet can then be found by star-hopping Eastwards from the constellation's brightest star Spica (Greek lower-case letter 'alpha' Vir or Alpha Virginis, mag. +1.0). For details, see the page describing how to find Leo & Virgo from The Big Dipper. Beyond 2014, however, Spica becomes a much less efficient waypoint for finding Saturn and the following JavaScript program should be used instead:

 

'Mini-AstroViewer' Java applet

For additional information on the fully-functional

version of the program, see here.

Mini-AstroViewer is an easy-to-use Java applet which shows the positions of the celestial bodies in the night sky for any location on the globe at any time of the year (Javascript must be enabled in your browser for the program to function).

To activate the program, click on the button below (the program will open in a pop-up window).

Please enable JAVATM to use the Mini-AstroViewer night sky map.

The default location is New York, USA. To select your own location and then find Saturn, refer to the 'Finding Saturn ..' box below.

An animated tutorial showing how to locate a planet in the night sky using Mini-AstroViewer can be seen here.

  • The applet also shows the positions of the planets in their orbits, viewed from a point in space far above the Solar System (click on the tab marked 'Solar System' at the top of the applet; use the left-hand scroll bar to zoom out).

Finding Saturn in Your Own Night Sky using Mini-AstroViewer

Sun, Moon and planet colours as they appear in AstroViewer. The program displays the Moon in its correct phase

To set your own location, click on the 'Location' button and click on your approximate position on the pop-up world map. If you know your precise latitude and longitude, you can refine your position by pressing the left/right and up/down arrows to move the cross-hair in 1 increments (to find your latitude and longitude, visit the Heavens Above website and enter the name of your nearest town or city in the search box). Having plotted your geographical co-ordinates, click 'OK' and the night sky over your own location will appear in the window, valid for the current time, which is displayed in UT (Universal Time, equivalent to GMT). The applet will initialise displaying the current UT time according to your browser's clock and Time Zone settings (if you would prefer to have the Local Time displayed, use the fully-functional version of the program at Astroviewer.com).

The red circle represents the horizon around you; the lower half of the display represents the part of the sky you are facing. The centre of the circle is the point directly above your head (known as the zenith). The ecliptic (the path along which the Sun, Moon and planets will be found) is marked by a red dashed line, passing as it does through the zodiac constellations. The blue dashed line marks the apparent position of the celestial equator, which arcs across the sky from the due East point on the horizon to the due West point. The program plots stars down to magnitude +5.0.

The bottom scroll bar rotates the horizon view, allowing for a view in any compass direction; the left-hand scroll bar zooms the sky in or out, and the right-hand scroll bar pans up (to the zenith) or down (to the horizon) whenever the view has been zoomed.

Mini-AstroViewer demonstration (click to visit AstroViewer website)

For a detailed animation showing how to use the

Mini-AstroViewer program, click here.

Information on a celestial body can be viewed by clicking on the object (in the case of a planet, its magnitude, distance, elongation and apparent diameter). Note that if the elongation (its angular distance from the Sun as seen from the Earth) is less than about 15, the planet will not be visible because it is too near the Sun. Remember that local twilight can affect the visibility of a particular planet, even at elongations greater than 15, making observation difficult or even impossible. This particularly applies throughout the local summer months at higher latitudes.

To locate Saturn, first see if it is above the horizon at the time you are requesting. If it is visible within the circle, move the bottom scroll bar left or right to rotate the image until the planet is positioned on the vertical red line (the altitude scale). Zoom in to the area using the left-hand scroll bar where necessary (see animation opposite).

The direction of Saturn at the requested time will be indicated at the bottom (W, SW, etc). The altitude of the planet (its angle above the horizon) can be read off on the altitude scale (it is marked at 10 intervals). Hence if it is three notches up, its altitude is 30 at the displayed time (to understand how to determine a planet's altitude in the night sky, refer to the two diagrams below). If Saturn's altitude is less than about 10 it may be difficult to see because of the dimming effect of the Earth's atmosphere and, in town and city locations, the effects of light pollution or skyglow.

If Saturn is not shown within the circle, it is below the horizon and you will have to wait until after it next rises before you can see it (provided it is not too near the Sun). To find when it next rises, click the 'hours forward' button (Forward in time button) repeatedly until the planet appears over the eastern horizon, then note down the time and direction this occurs. By clicking the 'minutes/hours forward' buttons (Forward in time button), Saturn can then be tracked across the sky for the remainder of the night (using direction and altitude) as described above.

If Saturn rises in daylight (i.e. if the Sun is already above the horizon), you will have to wait until dusk to see it - in which case, 'fast forward' to a time shortly after sunset, then note down the time and direction.

The same method can also be used to find any of the visible constellations in your night sky.

Diagram demonstrating the angular altitude of a celestial body (Copyright Martin J Powell, 2006)

 

Direction and Altitude diagram

Angular altitude (or elevation) is measured as 0 at the horizon (when an object is at the point of rising or setting), 45 when 'half way up the sky' and 90 when directly above the observer's head (at the zenith). In the above picture, the bright star has an altitude of about 60 (i.e. it is "60 high").

Using direction and altitude to find a star or planet in the night sky - in this case, the star/planet is in the South-east (SE) at an altitude of 20.

 

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The Current Night Sky over Seoul, South Korea  Flag of South Korea

Would you like to see your own town or city shown here?

 

Requested locations may appear on another planet page (see links below) depending upon the number of requests received by the author at any given time.

A list of the night sky locations currently displayed on this website can be seen on the main Naked-eye planets page.

The graphic shows the sky at the location indicated when this page was loaded in your browser; if several minutes have since passed, click the 'Refresh' button at the top of your browser (or press the F5 key) to see the current sky.

The Night Sky location displayed here is periodically changed by the website author.

Additional AstroViewer Information

Mini-AstroViewer is a lightweight version of AstroViewer, an interactive night sky map that helps you find your way in the night sky quickly and easily. Due to its intuitive interface, it is well suited to beginners in astronomy.

The fully functional, free-to-use version can be accessed at the AstroViewer website. It has additional features such as a Local Time display, a planet visibility chart for any selected location, a 3D Solar System map, the ability to store user-generated world locations, a 'Find Celestial Body' facility, printing and language options and greater flexibility in the night sky display (see details here).

A fully-functional version for offline use can be obtained upon the purchase of a license key, following the download and installation of a test version.

AstroViewer is produced by Dirk Matussek.

current night sky over Seoul

 

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The Naked-eye appearance of Saturn

Naked Eye Planet Index

Planetary Movements through the Zodiac

Mercury

Venus

Mars

Jupiter

Saturn

Uranus

Neptune

Pluto


Credits


Copyright  Martin J Powell  December 2013 with minor revisions July 2014


 

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