Saturn will be shining more brightly tonight than at any other time of the year, and you can see it live, right here.
Beginning at 6 p.m. Friday the astronomy website Slooh.com will broadcast a live feed of Saturn from its telescopes in the Canary Islands. Slooh's telescope operators will focus on the planet's majestic rings, as well as try to spot at least six of its 53 known moons.
This week Saturn is in opposition, which means that it is directly opposite the sun in the our sky, and the closest it will be to the Earth this year.
Alan MacRobert of Sky & Telescope magazine said that sky watchers can expect an especially good view of Saturn's rings this year. That's because as Saturn makes its 30-year orbit of the sun, our perspective on its rings changes.
"Sometimes we see them nearly edge on, but other times they are more tilted with respect to the line of sight," he said. "This year they are about as tilted as they are going to get."
Tilted rings are good. It means we get to see more of them.
Finding Saturn in the night sky should be pretty easy, provided you have a clear sky. You'll find the planet looking like a bright point of light fairly low in the southeast just as twilight fades. Saturn will continue to rise higher through the night and into the new day until about 1 a.m.
MacRobert advises that if you look below the planet, about the width of a fist held at arm's length, you'll find the star Antares shining not quite as brightly as Saturn.
"This is an excellent chance to check the old adage that stars twinkle and planets don't," he said.
If you have access to a 3-inch telescope you may be able to see Saturn's moon Titan. With a 6-inch telescope you can see four or five of the moons, and with a 12-inch you can see as many as half a dozen.
MacRobert says that although the views of Saturn might be the best tonight, it's just by a tiny amount. The planet will be shining brightly for the next month.
Happy sky watching!
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