While excitement among planetary observers is growing for the best views of Mars for 15 years (Martian dust storms permitting) in late July, there’s still one prior planetary treat: the opposition of Saturn on 27 June, which coincides with a close lunar conjunction. We show you what to look for in and around the Saturnian system.
Many of you may have tracked down an asteroid with binoculars or a telescope, but have you ever seen one with the naked eye? If not, then June presents you with an opportunity to see the brightest, 1 Vesta, at a close opposition. What’s more, ringed planet Saturn lies close by to act as a convenient guide.
Although Jupiter close to opposition may be stealing the other naked-eye planets’ thunder, there’s lots more to see if you’re an early riser on the weekend of 5–6 May. About an hour before sunrise finds Mars and Saturn less than the span of an outstretched hand at arm’s length apart in the UK southern sky, with the waning gibbous Moon acting as a convenient guide to each planet on successive mornings.
Early risers will already be aware that there’s currently a lot of planetary activity in the morning sky, but at dawn in Western Europe on Monday, 2 April, Mars and Saturn will be just 1¼ degrees apart and seen in the same field of view of telescopes at 30x magnification. The waning Moon is close by on the mornings of 7 & 8 April too.
In the small UK hours of Sunday 14 May, the rising 17-day-old Moon in the southeast lies just 2.4 degrees to the upper-left of Saturn, meaning that the pair will comfortably fit in the same field of view of a typical 10×50 binocular. The ringed planet is now about a month from opposition, so now’s the time to hone your observing skills.
Find a location that offers you an unobstructed view of the horizon from south to southwest an hour after sunset. With clear skies, you’ll be able to follow Venus and Mars from night to night on their celestial peregrinations through the constellations of Sagittarius and Capricornus. The two planets almost keep pace with each other throughout the remainder of November.