Eyes to the Sky: Saturn, the season's all-night planet


There's a particular excitement when we spot a wild natural object and connect with it, however fleetingly. Here comes a migrating hawk, resident fox, newly awakened salamander, red maple in flower and Saturn lifting over the east-southeast horizon. We might know when and where to expect a heavenly body to rise or set or be at zenith, nevertheless, seeing it is experienced with the surprise of recognition: Aha!

Saturn, looking like a golden star, captivates the viewer as we appreciate that the planet has just arrived at the position in the eastern sky where it heralds the coming of night as the sun is announcing the end of day on the opposite horizon.

Today, the ringed planet rises at 7:40 p.m.; sunset is at 7:46 p.m. Saturn will rise four to five minutes earlier every night and sunset will be a steady one minute (with few exceptions) later for the coming month. These times vary greatly depending on whether there are hills, or buildings, between you and the horizon. Note that Saturn is not nearly as bright as planet Jupiter and so will not be visible until darkness falls. Jupiter can be seen in the evening twilight about a third of the way to zenith in the western sky.

The sixth planet from the sun, second largest in our solar system and bearing the name of the Roman god of agriculture, Saturn is at its brightest this week. It arrives at opposition from the sun at 4 a.m. Sunday. Tonight, the one-night-past-full Egg Moon rises in the southeast at 9:09 p.m. Look for bright golden Saturn above the moon.

Now's the best time to see the phenomenal rings of Saturn through a telescope. Contact the Amherst Area Amateur Astronomers Association about their Saturday night observatory program. Info: http://amastro.org or Kevin Collins, (413) 586-2395.

To contact Judy Isacoff go to www.naturesturn.org


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