This evening the Moon has shifted towards the southern sky a bit so that it hangs just below planet Saturn. The pair together will look quite impressive to the unaided eye – even if you live in the city. It’s amazing to think that while the Moon is only about 400,000 km away, the ringed-planet sits over 1.2 billion km from Earth. Despite its vast distance, Saturn shines so bright in the sky because of it’s massive size – 9 times larger than Earth, and its highly reflective cloud-tops. To the naked eye the 6th planet in the solar system shines with a creamy-yellow colour- which is the actual colour of its gaseous atmosphere.
To see Saturn’s famous rings however you will need a small telescope. It doesn’t have to be a fancy instrument- anything bigger than a pair of binoculars should give you a glimpse. These rings are made of billions of chunks of ice and rock - everything from house-size down to a the size of a particle of dust. They are about 250,000 km wide, which would make the planet with its rings fit snuggly in between the Earth and the Moon. The rings have been getting narrower in the eyepiece over the past year as the tilt of the planet – to our line of sight – has made the rings appear extremely thin. A small telescope will also reveal a handful of the largest of the 60 or so moons Saturn has zipping around it.
Posted in Planets, Solar System, The Moon | 99 Comments »