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stargazing tonight

Saturn and its rings will be illuminated in sunlight when the planet reaches full tilt in direct opposition to Earth. Stargazers will also be able to compare cloud bands on both Saturn and the giant planet Jupiter, with the best time to catch both planets tipped to be a few hours after sunset, just as Saturn rises and before Jupiter sets.

The best views of Saturn will be around midnight… as far away from city lights as you can get.

Saturn reached opposition on June 15, when Saturn, Earth and the sun were all in a straight line, with Earth in the middle.

Opposition provides the best and closest views of Saturn and several of its brightest moons.

To see cool details, you’ll need a telescope.

If you just see one, that’s Titan. Titan is 50% larger than our own moon. It orbits Saturn about every 16 Earth days. Our moon takes 27.3 days to orbit Earth.

Through a telescope you’ll be able to compare the cloud bands on both Saturn and Jupiter.

Saturn’s cloud bands are fainter than the bands of Jupiter. On Saturn you’ll see delicate shades of cream and butterscotch, while Jupiter’s bands are shades of white, rust and ochre.

A telescope will also show Saturn’s rings tilted toward Earth about as wide as they get:  26.6 degrees.

The sunlight reflecting off the ring particles makes the rings look even brighter.

You’ll also have a ring-side view of the Cassini division, discovered in 1675 by Giovanni Domenico Cassini, namesake of NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. 

The spacecraft has been orbiting Saturn since 2004.  Cassini is on a trajectory that will eventually plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere and end Cassini’s mission on September 15, 2017.