Saturday 10 May at 1 pm CDT (18 UT) the outer planet Saturn reaches a point in its orbit around the Sun called opposition. This is an arrangement of Saturn, Earth, and the Sun that places the three in a pattern with the Earth in between Saturn and the Sun. Think full Moon and that is a good mental picture of Saturn, or any of the outer planets, at opposition. This animated graphic centered on the Sun shows the Sun, Earth, and Saturn from 15 March to 1 July at 1-day intervals. The faster orbital speed of the Earth allows the Earth to quickly catch up with and pass Saturn.At opposition, like with a full Moon, Saturn will rise at approximately local sunset time and Saturn will set at local sunrise time – visible above the horizon all night.
Finding Saturn is fairly easy especially if you follow the ‘old’ mnemonic “Follow the arc to Arcturus, then speed to Spica.” Once you have found Spica look down to the left for Saturn and up to the right for Mars and the Moon. On the 10th all four make a fairly straight diagonal line rising up from the eastern horizon toward higher above the southeast horizon.
Click here for Planet Oppositions 2005 to 2020.
This is a short 4.5-minute video I made as part of a live musical performance called “Orbit” that was performed at the Gottleib Planetarium in Kansas City Missouri in May 2011. This is a piece from the much longer tour of the solar system performance and video and shows a fly-by of Saturn.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.