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Planet Saturn Closest In 30 Years

michael posted more than 10 years ago | from the sprinkled-moondust-in-your-hair dept.

Space 23

maliabu writes "Saturn will be coming to opposition (opposite the Sun in relation to Earth) on New Year's Eve. More details here. And of course a dedicated website Celestron Saturn Opposition 2003 too."

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Shit! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7755219)

I heard it's supposed to look almost as big as the moon in the night sky, just like mars was a few months ago.

Oh no, what if it gets close enough to collide with mars, or even the moon? This could spell disaster!

Galileo (5, Interesting)

BallPeenHammer (720987) | more than 10 years ago | (#7755464)

Galileo first discovered the rings of Saturn during an opposition, too. (Opposition being the term for when Saturn is on the OPPOSITE side of the sky from the sun, therefore, the sun is shining directly on Saturn and Earth is also closest to Saturn.) It was in July of 1610 that he turned his telescope on that planet.

As he wrote, "I discovered another very strange wonder, which I should like to make known to their Highnesses [the Medici]. . . , keeping it secret, however, until the time when my work is published . . . . the star of Saturn is not a single star, but is a composite of three, which almost touch each other, never change or move relative to each other, and are arranged in a row along the zodiac, the middle one being three times larger than the lateral ones, and they are situated in this form: oOo. " ( n.html [] )

Even geniuses and famous discoverers make mistakes.

Re:Galileo (4, Insightful)

Stargoat (658863) | more than 10 years ago | (#7755688)

"Even geniuses and famous discoverers make mistakes."

Not much of a mistake though, considering. Remember the crude instruments he was working with. And the intellectual confines.

It's a wonder that he did so much.

Re:Galileo (1)

Sparr0 (451780) | more than 10 years ago | (#7755896)

(Opposition being the term for when Saturn is on the OPPOSITE side of the sky from the sun, therefore, the sun is shining directly on Saturn and Earth is also closest to Saturn.)

this does not follow. its entirely possible to have an Opposition in which the two planets are much farther apart than their closest approach. The earth could be at its closest approach to the sun, while Saturn is at its farthest (although I doubt the elliptical orbits align properly for this to happen), which would make them much farther apart than in the opposite situation.

Re:Galileo (4, Informative)

barakn (641218) | more than 10 years ago | (#7756141)

"Earth is also closest to Saturn" merely means that they are on the same side of the sun rather than on opposite sides. Discussing the elliptical nature of the orbits takes the discussion to a whole new unnecessary level, especially considering that Saturn's and Earth's orbits are not very elliptical.

Re:Galileo (2, Interesting)

Sparr0 (451780) | more than 10 years ago | (#7759077)

Maximum distance from Sun: 10.044 AU=1.503x10^9 km
Minimum distance from Sun: 9.014 AU=1.348x10^9 km

Maximum distance from Sun: 1.017 AU=1.521x10^8 km
Minimum distance from Sun: 0.983 AU=1.471x10^8 km

The two extreme cases for opposition (neither of which is possible because the two orbits arent aligned, but this illustrates the difference) put the planets at least 1.196x10^9 km apart, or at most 1.355x10^9 km apart. Thats a difference of about 159000000 (0s instead of scientific notation for emphasis) kilometers, or about 530 light seconds. An opposition happens every year (well, actually every 1.03 years), but we only come close to the closest approach (which, exactly, is infinitely rare) every 29.4 or so years.

PS: And, to finalize this rant, the closest approach itself isnt even during an opposition, precisely BECAUSE the orbits arent aligned. I can draw you a picture if youd like.

Re:Galileo (2, Informative)

barakn (641218) | more than 10 years ago | (#7762160)

Comet Halley
perihelion: 0.5871 AU
aphelion: 35.25 AU

So, as I was saying, Earth's and Saturn's orbits aren't that elliptical.

I can draw you a picture if youd like.

Please don't. I teach astronomy at a university. You're trying to explain some very complicated issues to an audience that was still trying to sort out the basics: whether an opposition is when the Earth is opposite the Sun from Saturn or when the Sun is opposite the Earth from Saturn. When the original poster said "Earth is also closest to Saturn," I assume he/she was merely trying to differentiate between the two aforementioned cases. But yes, saying "close" would have been more accurate than "closest". You yourself haven't mentioned all of the relevant factors, including tugs from other planets, especially mighty Jove, and Saturn's orbital inclination 2.49 degrees from the ecliptic. Exactly how were you going to include those in your picture?

Re:Galileo (4, Insightful)

barakn (641218) | more than 10 years ago | (#7756036)

Since when is it a mistake to describe what you see using language an audience would understand? He saw three bright points, and he described them as three bright stars. If that was a mistake, then astronomers can do nothing besides make mistakes, because eventually someone will come along with a better optical instrument, see more detail, and describe the thing with new language.

Re:Galileo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7756832)

Your momma.

Re:Galileo (1)

annisette (682090) | more than 10 years ago | (#7761101)

Galileo exclamed that it looked like this planet has "ears",or as your quote says oOo form. I wonder when they were actually defined as rings?

It's the END OF THE EARTH (4, Funny)

Jerf (17166) | more than 10 years ago | (#7755488)

Yes, I know this has happened millions upon millions of times before, but this time it's the END OF THE EARTH FOR SURE! Stock up on your survival gear! Soon the planet will be torn asunder by gravitational resonance and Planet X will eat up the remainder of our planet in a fiesta of electromagnetic quantum something-or-other!

What's different about this opposition? Why, that I'm aware of it of course!


Re:note to moderators (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7756416)

C'mon, someone modded this as a Troll? Not really...I found it pretty funny and it should be modded as such.

Troll? TROLL? (1, Funny)

Jerf (17166) | more than 10 years ago | (#7757126)

To the moderator who modded my previous message as a troll: I envy your lack of exposure to loons who really believe various cosmic events that have happening millions of times signal the end of existance as we know it, but that's what we call a "satirization" of those loons. The first sentence, not to mention the second paragraph, should have been the giveaway. (Not to mention "something-or-other!".)

Please turn in your mod points at the nearest recycling facility.

Just let me know when... (1)

Slick_Snake (693760) | more than 10 years ago | (#7756332)

Uranus is the Closest. I always like how it looked.

excellent viewing opportunity (5, Informative)

OneOver137 (674481) | more than 10 years ago | (#7756868)

If you have a scope or know someone who does, get out and take a peek. Not only is Saturn at a favorable opposition (i.e, it's close to Earth), but the rings are steeply tilted, making for spectacular views. Just about any scope will show the ring system and a few moons, especially Titan. Saturn's features aren't as contrasty as those on Mars, so be patient at the eyepiece and you will see detail. Here's a few things to look for:

  • Cassini's Division
  • South Polar Hood
  • Shadow of planet on ring system
  • South Equatorial belts and zones
  • Enke Division (need a big scope)
  • Crepe ring (need a big scope)

Most of these things can be seen with amateur scopes with at least 4" (102mm) aperture. Remember though that the atmosphere will cause the image to blur, so keep checking back on different nights if seeing is bad. Take a look at the Clear Sky Clock [] for your area. Happy viewing!

For those of you in the SF Bay Area (2, Informative)

boredman (169127) | more than 10 years ago | (#7759027)

Check out the Foothill College Observatory [] on Friday nights. If they're not doing it already, I'm sure they'll be observing Saturn as the opposition approaches. It's always fun, and always informative.

I had a chance to check out Saturn recently. This opposition will be quite good, indeed!

Cool! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7760125)

So when do we get to see Uranus?

Saturnalia...? (2, Informative)

ninejaguar (517729) | more than 10 years ago | (#7760808)

Coincidentally, this event is happening during the same time of year as Saturnalia [] . If you're unfamiliar with the term, some people refer to the holiday as Christmas [] .

= 9J =

Why aren't we... (0)

herrvinny (698679) | more than 10 years ago | (#7761288)

Looking at Saturn is great and all (hell, I'll probably be doing it myself), but why aren't we nailing that sucker with a probe or something? When we got close to Mars, NASA and Europe fired off three probes, yet Saturn is the closest in 30 years and we aren't sending anything? Is there a rocket scientist here who wants to explain?

Re:Why aren't we... (3, Informative)

stendec (582696) | more than 10 years ago | (#7761777)

You're absolutely right. It's shocking and appalling that such an obvious treasure trove of scientific insight is not being visited by any instrument of human design whatsoever.


Except for this [] bucket of bolts.

Re:Why aren't we... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7768752)

I got a real chuckle out of that.

Re:Why aren't we... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7773450)

Ouch! 0wn3d!!!

Re:Why aren't we... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7764852)

They did. You see, since the planet is closest now, that means we need to have already sent probes to get there in the least time. If you launch now, the planet will be "running away" from us in the years it will take our space probe to get there.

The Cassini probe was launched to take advantage of this close approach, and is on its way.
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