Hey, everybody, time to get your Saturn on, because the ringed planet remains at opposition tonight. Conjunction means the Sun is directly between us and the object, and opposition means we're the monkey in the middle. This is also its perigee, or closest approach to Earth, so it's both perfectly placed for viewing and at its largest and brightest in the sky. It's 8.82 AU away, with one Astronomical Unit representing the distance from the Earth to the Sun.

I was up late last night checking it out, and it's got this rich, cheddary yellow color from all the ammonia crystals in its upper atmosphere. Titan's the only one of its moons I can see, but it's still the coolest thing I've ever seen in the night sky. One particular reason to tune in tonight is the phenomenon known as the Seeliger Effect. If the Sun is the flashlight at our backs, and it's shining on something made of lots of separate particles or pieces like the rings, it’s reflected back with greater intensity from the direction directly opposite the beam. That means a special brightening effect, and tonight's the last chance to catch it.

See the difference between the top photo and the bottom? If your telescope is as sucky as mine, you won't either. Still, even checking it out with the naked eye tonight is worth it. Assuming you live in the northern hemisphere, here is your guide. Look up in the sky, find the handle of the Big Dipper, then "follow the arc to Arcturus" to the beautiful red supergiant. Then, straight on to Spica, the bright star with the cold white light. Saturn will be low on the horizon after sunset and climb higher and higher all night.


Spica is like unfathomably distant, but in astronomical terms, Saturn is close enough to reach out and touch. If you compare them, you'll see that one is twinkling like mad, while light from the other remains steady and golden. Take a look through even a halfway decent pair of binoculars, and you'll see the disc that differentiates planets from stars. Careful though, because Saturn is the crack that gets people hooked on creeping around and peering at stuff in the dark.