Planet Saturn is at its best this June, 2016. as it comes closest to Earth. It’s easy to find, astonishing to see!
In our culture of publicity and hype, the media often cry wolf. But one planet never disappoints. Through any telescope with more than 30x, Saturn elicits gasps.
As an observatory director I’ve shown the ringed planet to thousands of people over the past 35 years. Most folks who see it through a good telescope either say, “Oh my God!” or “That’s not real!” No other planet packs that kind of punch.
Oddly enough, even fabulous photographs of this planet do not create same visceral reaction. You have to see it for yourself. It’s like the Grand Canyon – it must be experienced in person.
Best Time to See Saturn
The first week of June, Saturn arrives at its closest approach of the year, when it’s biggest through telescopes. However, it will stay great looking for months to come. Those fabled rings, which have been oriented edgewise or nearly so for years, have been opening up and are now tilted more than 24 degrees from sideways, revealing exquisite detail.
Those rings are fashioned of countless chunks of ordinary water ice, each typically the size of a beach ball. The rings span 100,000 miles but are only about 35 feet thick. So thin, they’re analogous to a sheet of paper the size of a city block! So barely-there, they vanish entirely when seen edgewise, as they were in 2009.
Twice as shiny as the ball of Saturn, the icy rings double Saturn’s brightness when they present their maximum face toward Earth and Sun, which is why Saturn is so bright right now.
How to See Saturn
OK, Say you’re sold and want to find Saturn for yourself. If it were one of the sky’s most dazzling stars, the way Venus or Jupiter always are, this would be a piece of cake. But it’s easy anyway.
- Look lowish in the southeast anytime after 10 PM or so. You’ll see three bright stars forming a triangle. The “point” on the bottom is orange—and this is a true star, the famous Antares, the heart of the Scorpion.
- The one on the right is the brightest of the trio and it’s orange too. This is Mars.
- The one on the left is Saturn.
Finding it is the first cool step. Now you’ve got to talk someone who has a telescope to point it there. You won’t be sorry.