Saturn at Opposition

This image shows the planet Saturn with its rings tilted at nearly the maximum amount possible as seen from Earth. We are looking down on the planet's southern hemisphere. Saturn's axis of rotation is tilted about 27 degrees, and the planet completes an orbit of the Sun every 29.5 years. As Saturn orbits the Sun, the inclination of the rings from our perspective varies between 0 degrees and plus or minus 27 degrees during periods of 13.75 years and 15.75 years. The elliptical orbit of Saturn accounts for the unequal intervals.

Saturn reached opposition on December 31, 2003, and this image was taken just four days later. To the naked eye, Saturn appeared as a bright magnitude -0.5 point of light with a yellowish color. Saturn's globe was 21 arc-seconds in diameter, and the rings spanned 47 arc-seconds. Saturn has at least 30 moons, but only a few of them are visible in amateur size telescopes. Saturn's moon Titan is the only moon in our solar system that has a substantial atmosphere.

At the time this image was taken, the Cassini spacecraft was on its way to Saturn. Voyager 1 flew within 40,000 miles of Saturn in 1980, and Voyager 2 flew past within 26,000 miles of Saturn in 1981. Although the two Voyager spacecraft sent back 33,000 images of the Saturnian system, there is still much to learn about the ringed planet and its moons. Instead of flying past the planet, Cassini went into orbit around Saturn when it arrived during the summer of 2004. The Cassini spacecraft has made significant new discoveries and substantially increased our knowledge of Saturn and its moons. Prior to reaching Saturn, the Cassini spacecraft flew by Jupiter and captured beautiful images of our largest planet as it passed Jupiter on the way to Saturn.

This image was taken using a ToUcam Pro web cam on an FCT-150 telescope with a TeleVue 4x PowerMate. The images were taken from my backyard in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Constellation: Gemini
RA: 06h 41m 02s Dec: +22d 26' 20"
January 4, 2004
Image by Sid Leach
Scottsdale, Arizona

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