On the UK night of 6—7 July 2017, three weeks after the opposition of Saturn in the constellation of Ophiuchus, the ringed planet can be identified as the magnitude-zero ‘star’ highest in the southern UK sky around 11:40pm BST. As seen from the heart of the British Isles at this time, Saturn struggles to attain a peak altitude of just 14 degrees, or three-quarters of the span of an outstretched hand held at arm’s length above the horizon.
While there is a slim chance that you can confuse Saturn with first-magnitude Antares in the constellation of Scorpius that lies 14 degrees (or one-and-a-half spans of a fist held at arm’s length) to the right of the planet, the supergiant star is the fainter of the two and has a reddish-orange hue in binoculars and small telescopes.Returning to Saturn in a small telescope, the UK night of 6—7 July is ideal for spotting the ringed planet’s largest moon, Titan. This cloud-covered world some 3,200 miles in diameter looks just like a magnitude +9 star close to its greatest westerly elongation from Saturn, some 4½ ring diameters away. Titan orbits its parent planet every 16 days, so expect to see it a similar distance to the east of Saturn on 14 July.
A thrilling ride is about to begin for NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Engineers have been pumping up the probe’s orbit around Saturn this year to increase its tilt with respect to the planet’s equator and rings. And on 30 November, following a gravitational nudge from Saturn’s moon Titan, Cassini will enter the first phase of the mission’s dramatic endgame.
NGC 6153 in the constellation Scorpius contains up to three times the amount of neon, argon, oxygen, carbon and chlorine to be found in our Solar System, but what really sets this planetary nebula apart is the quantity of nitrogen in its clouds.