Saturn at opposition: How to watch the ringed planet line up with Earth


The Hubble Space Telescope took a fresh look at Saturn during its northern hemisphere summer.

NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley), and the OPAL Team

Saturn, with its glorious rings, is a gem in the night sky, and a prime Saturn viewing opportunity is coming up. The night of Sunday, Aug. 1 and morning of Monday, Aug. 2 will mark the planet’s opposition — when it’s lined up with the sun and Earth is in the middle, like a celestial sandwich.

In its daily skywatching guide, NASA called out early Monday morning as a prime viewing time. “Saturn is directly opposite the sun from Earth on this date. Around the time of opposition it’s visible all night, reaching its highest point around midnight,” the space agency said.

Gas giant Jupiter will be getting in on the opposition action this month, too, with its big date set for Aug. 19. As with Saturn, it will be visible all night and reach its highest point around midnight. 

The annual opposition typically means a planet is brighter than usual, but the Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics notes “the difference will hardly be noticeable, given how far out Jupiter, and especially Saturn, orbit.”

A stargazing app can help you dial in the location of Saturn, which will rise in the east as night falls. This is a great time to break out your binoculars for a closer look. Even better, a small telescope can help bring the planet’s storied rings into focus. With the right gear, you might even spot its biggest moon Titan looking like a nearby dot of light.

You don’t have to hit opposition on the nose to enjoy the spectacle. The ringed planet should be easy to spot in the night sky for days on either side of the main event. The same goes for Jupiter. August is a perfect month for planet-spotting.

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