Why Saturn’s rings will be shining extra bright tonight

Living Well | Author: Perry Vlahos | Photo: NASA | Posted on 12 August 2019

Saturn’s rings are easy to find with a telescope, but harder for the naked eye to see.

Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are? For many thousands of years humans have looked up at the night sky with unanswered questions. For most of our history we had no idea what we were dealing with.

Since our technology advanced to the stage of being able to visit some of the lights in the sky – either in person, or via probes that reported back, we’ve finally been able to see exactly what some of them looked like. Each of the planets and moons held surprises and in some cases, information from our spacecraft asked even more questions than they answered.

Saturn


Despite knowing much more regarding our solar system neighbours, some of the elementary knowledge still escapes many people. For example, which of those lights in the sky is Saturn?

Venus and Jupiter outshine all the stars and are relatively easy to pick out. Mars can be almost as bright as Jupiter and has a distinct orange-red glow giving it away. However, while Saturn is dead easy in a telescope because you can see its rings, with the naked eye it does not have much to distinguish it for the untrained observer.

This makes Saturn much more difficult to hunt down. Nevertheless, don’t despair because the universe – which works in mysterious ways, is coming to your rescue.

A rare opportunity will present itself on 12 August that will make identifying Saturn so easy, you’ll gain a reputation as a wicked astronomer by pointing it out to your friends and family.

Here’s how to accomplish this; straight after sunset, look for the moon in the eastern sky with naked eye. Very near to its right, almost touching it, will be Saturn. Even though Saturn is as bright as ‘the pointers’ to the southern cross, the glare from the nearly full moon will diminish the planet’s light somewhat, resembling a little pimple on the moon.

It will be the brightest ‘star-like object’ closest to the moon’s right and will make a stunning pairing for the eye. Follow me on Twitter @Perryastronomy and I’ll remind you so you don’t miss it.

If this is not spectacular enough, the moon will draw even closer to Saturn until it almost touches at about 7pm. It may become more difficult to see at this time and binoculars or telescope will prove useful. The moon will then gradually pull away from Saturn and the planet will be easier to discern.

So then, invite your friends around for a sunset barbecue and enjoy your new-found status as a gun astronomer. 

If you want to see Saturn’s rings, you’ll need a telescope that magnifies to at least 20 power. The larger the aperture and the sharper the image, the more detail you can make out.