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Viewing Saturn in 2013

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Viewing Saturn in 2013

Saturn rises in the East-Southeast in April about two hours after sunset – marking the beginning of an excellent Saturn viewing season for the year. It will be a great evening target through early September. In late September it will be low in the West-Southwest, dipping into the sunset glare in early October. Saturn's conjunction with the Sun is in early November, so the planet is lost in the glare of the Sun late October through early November. It will rise as a morning planet during mid-November and December and the ring tilt reaches 22 degrees at year end! Toward the end of November, Comet ISON whizzes past Saturn and Mercury in the dawn skies.

Diagram of Saturn at opposition
Diagram of Saturn at opposition

Saturn reaches opposition with the Sun on April 28, when it is visible all night long. An object is at opposition when the sun is on one side of Earth and the object is directly on the opposite side. The result is that the object is fully illuminated by the sun and appears disk-like. We see a great example of an opposition every month. Whenever there is a full moon, the moon is on one side of Earth and the sun is on the opposite side.

Saturn Viewing Tips

This year begins with Saturn's rings tilted 18.8 degrees. Saturn's north pole is now tilted towards Earth. Between January and April, the ring tilt narrows very slightly to 18 degrees because of the orbital position of Earth. Then from April until December 2013 the tilt increases to a majestic 22 degrees.

What will Saturn look like through a telescope? It depends. You may be able to see the planet and the wide-open rings clearly, depending on such variables as the power and cleanliness of your optics and eyepieces. Weather and atmospheric conditions affect the view through your telescope, too. It is best to view Saturn when it is highest in the sky so there will be less atmospheric dust and turbulence between you and your target. This year, you should see a marked difference in the coloration of Saturn’s clouds. The north polar region appears darker than the lighter cloud bands you see.

January 2013:
Saturn can be seen in the constellation Libra, rising just before midnight, but your best views will be just before dawn, when Saturn is at its highest this month. The ring tilt is impressive – 18.8 degrees from edge-on. The north pole and north side of the rings are visible.

February 2013:
Saturn rises near midnight this month. Ring tilt is 18-19 degrees. Mercury has its best evening apparition of the year this month. Jupiter and Mercury all make good pre-Saturn viewing targets.

March 2013:
Saturn rises by mid evening. Comet PanSTARRS makes an appearance in the northern hemisphere sunset skies near the horizon.

April 2013:
Saturn is at opposition on April 28. It rises at sunset, transits at midnight (at its highest elevation, making this the best time for telescopic views), and sets at sunrise. At opposition the planet is closest to Earth and therefore brighter. Join worldwide Saturn Observation Campaign members, and Night Sky Network Astronomy clubs who will be showing and celebrating Saturn through their telescopes this spring and summer. The ring inclination tilts 18 degrees this month. You'll have no trouble seeing Saturn's largest moons, Titan, Dione, Iapetus, Rhea and Tethys over the next few months. And speaking of moons, catch Saturn next to our moon on the 25th.

May 2013:
Saturn rules the May skies. If you haven’t seen Saturn through a telescope before, this is an excellent month to search out your local astronomy club or science center star party. If it’s been a year since you’ve seen Saturn, you’ll marvel at the gorgeous ring tilt and darker and hazy coloring of the planet’s north pole. By month end it nears Virgo’s brilliant white star, Spica, by month end.

June 2013:
Look for Saturn high in the southwestern sky this month. It's perfectly placed for both campsite and city viewing and will offer fantastic telescopic views. Saturn meanders among the bright stars of the constellation Virgo this month, pairing up with (and occulting from some parts of the world) Spica again on June 18.

July 2013:
The best Saturn viewing window is nearing its end and Saturn now sets before midnight. It’s highest at dusk, and the rings are opening wider. Saturn reaches east quadrature when it is 90 degrees east of the sun on the 28th. This gives the planet a 3-D appearance when the planet casts a shadow on the rings.

Saturn in March 2013. Image courtesy of Anthony Wesley.
August 2013: Saturn sets in mid evening by the end of the month. Mind the gap between Saturn and Venus as they prepare for conjunction in September.

September 2013
The moon is two degrees South of Saturn on the 9th, and Venus and Saturn pass each other on the 19th very low in the western sky after sunset. Venus and the moon have a pretty pairing on the 8th.

October 2013
A pretty five degree solar system circle occurs on Oct. 7 – starring the Moon, Mercury and Saturn. On the 8th, the first of three conjunctions occur between Mercury and Saturn – the first on the 8th, the second on Oct. 30, and the third on Nov 26. By late month, Saturn disappears into the sunset twilight, reappearing in the morning sky after solar conjunction in November Comet ISON passes from Mars orbit to Earth orbit from Oct. 1 through Nov. 1, flying straight above Mars orbit to straight above Earth orbit.

November 2013
Saturn is in conjunction with the sun Nov. 6 and will reappear later this month. Look low in the sky before dawn for Saturn to re-emerge from behind the sun. The ring tilt is now 21 degrees open. The most amazing conjunction of the year takes place on Nov. 26, when Saturn and Mercury appear only half a degree from one another. On the days leading up to the 26th, Comet ISON passes only five degrees from each planet, moving a dramatic four to five degrees per day. On the 24th, the comet is predicted to brighten to very bright magnitude 0. The two planets are a similar magnitude – with Mercury shining at a -0.7 and Saturn +0.6. Nearby, Spica and Mars are fainter, at magnitudes 1.0 and 1.3, and may get tangled in ISON’s tail. This prediction will be updated as details emerge.

December 2013
Saturn's magnificent ring tilt is 22 degrees from edge-on as the year ends. December begins with a moon-Saturn occultation on the 1st and ends with another one on the 29th.

Moon Magnitude
Mimas 12.9

Moons are listed in order of brightness

Viewing Saturn's Moons:

How many moons does Saturn have? Check the Saturn's Moons page for the latest information. The largest, Titan, is easily visible in most telescopes. At western and eastern maximum elongation, the moon appears as an 8th magnitude object orbiting approximately five ring diameters from the planet. Titan orbits Saturn in about 16 days. The next brightest moon, 10th magnitude Rhea, can be found orbiting about two ring diameters from Saturn. Saturn’s other visible moons are Tethys, Dione, Enceladus, Mimas, and Iapetus. Mimas and Enceladus are challenging to view because of their proximity to Saturn's rings. Iapetus is much brighter at western elongation (magnitude 10.1) than at eastern elongation (magnitude 11.9). One side of Iapetus has the reflectivity of snow, and the other side is as dark as coal. At its brightest, Iapetus is located 12 ring diameters west of the planet. If you would like more information about the best times to view Iapetus in 2013, check here or let us know.

More Resources:

Want to learn more? Additional resources about Saturn and the Cassini Mission are available.

  • Blend space exploration with reading and writing -- Reading, Writing & Rings!
  • Cassini Scientist for a Day -- Students get involved
  • Cassini Raw Images