Thursday, March 11, 2010

saturn in the night sky

So that planet I spotted somewhere around the hind legs of Leo (I mean the constellation) isn't Mercury after all. After some good clicking in astronomical events sites, it's pretty clear that it's Saturn.

This is an actual photo taken by myself. Sloppy identifying markings photoshopped in.

I've also read that right about now is the best time to view the ringed planet, because it's right now in opposition this month- that means it's directly opposite the sun and therefore at it's most reflective. It's going to be around Leo / Virgo for a few years , but that part of the night sky is only visible in the first half of the year.

Leo is quite easy to spot - it's almost directly overhead from 10pm to midnight at this time of the year (at least in this part of the globe) . The sickle-shaped formation is the lion's head (see right side of photo). A line of stars leads to a right triangle made by three brighter stars (see left) - that "triangle" is the lion's rear end.

Image from here.

Just in case you live in the city (like I do), it would be kinda hard to spot the fainter stars that form the crescent shape. There's another easy way to spot Saturn though:

Three of Leo's brightest stars are very visible --
  • Regulus [alpha leonis, or the brightest star in Leo] - that's the lion's heart, found at the "base" of the sickle shape.
  • Denebola [beta leonis, the second brightest] - the "rearmost" end of the lion.
  • and Zosma [delta leonis] - the lion's tailbone... or the arch of his spine, depending on the artist's interpretation.

These three bright ones form a cross with Saturn, like so:

Normally, where Saturn is, there should be a fainter star there. The planet's brightness eclipses the star. You can tell it's a planet because the light is steady; stars flicker.

Man, I really wish I own a telescope. I must go to an observatory sometime soon. The hubby was able to view Saturn some years ago, from an observatory in L.A., and he says the view is just spectacular.

I have never been to an observatory - not even in those elementary school field trips. Grade school kids have trips to one every year, but I have always had the misfortune of being in the section that is scheduled to go on a day the observatory is closed (the ceiling is being painted, the projector is broken, whatever). I tried going with my cousins when I was ten years old, but I had the same luck. And then I have no idea why I never took advantage of our university observatory when I was a college student. So now that I am planning a visit to an observatory, I don't know how to go about it, haha.

Hey, I just learned that Jupiter was around the same spot in 2004. :) Hee hee. Geek trivia.