Saturn in a Strange Place
On Tuesday evening, September 26, look at the Moon at nightfall, around 8:00 PM. A star dangles just below it. This is the planet Saturn.
It’s not often that Saturn is so easy to identify. It’s not dazzling like Venus or even Jupiter. It’s not a colorful like Mars. It looks no different from lots of other stars even though it’s rather bright. But there’s no mistaking it Tuesday evening. There it sits, directly below the Moon.
Of course, Saturn’s in the news these days since the Cassini spacecraft recently crashed into it. So it’s kind of cool to be able to identify it so confidently.
This image of Saturn’s rings was taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on Sept. 13, 2017. It is among the last images Cassini sent back to Earth.
But it’s even cooler to see it through a telescope to view it’s beautiful rings. Any telescope will work, since all you need to see the rings is 30x. No matter how cheap or crummy your telescope is, it will amaze you on Tuesday if you point it to Saturn and for that matter the Moon, too. The Moon will be just two days before first quarter, so its lighting will be perfect to reveal countless craters especially on its bottom side, its south side.
The Moon and Saturn will both be in the constellation of Ophiuchus on Tuesday evening. Ophiuchus is, famously, not one of the 12 well known zodiac constellations, whose names are also used as the signs in astrology. After all, if at a party you’ve ever told someone you’re an Aquarius, you’ve probably never heard them reply, “Well, I’m an Ophiuchus.”
Aquarius was a water bearer, but Ophiuchus is a serpent bearer, a person who goes around carrying snakes for a living. Was there ever really such a profession? Well, maybe a long time ago. And perhaps even today, in zoos and circuses. Maybe some people are still hired to carry around snakes. But it can’t be a common occupation, and there’s probably no serpent bearers union.
But on Tuesday, you get to see Ophiuchus in person. It’s right there, surrounding the Moon and Saturn, but mostly above them.
Read more about Saturn, The Real Lord of the Rings.