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Space Science

Planet Saturn Closest In 30 Years 23

maliabu writes "Saturn will be coming to opposition (opposite the Sun in relation to Earth) on New Year's Eve. More details here. And of course a dedicated website Celestron Saturn Opposition 2003 too."
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Planet Saturn Closest In 30 Years

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  • Galileo (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BallPeenHammer ( 720987 ) on Thursday December 18, 2003 @01:29PM (#7755464)
    Galileo first discovered the rings of Saturn during an opposition, too. (Opposition being the term for when Saturn is on the OPPOSITE side of the sky from the sun, therefore, the sun is shining directly on Saturn and Earth is also closest to Saturn.) It was in July of 1610 that he turned his telescope on that planet.

    As he wrote, "I discovered another very strange wonder, which I should like to make known to their Highnesses [the Medici]. . . , keeping it secret, however, until the time when my work is published . . . . the star of Saturn is not a single star, but is a composite of three, which almost touch each other, never change or move relative to each other, and are arranged in a row along the zodiac, the middle one being three times larger than the lateral ones, and they are situated in this form: oOo. " (http://es.rice.edu/ES/humsoc/Galileo/Things/satur n.html [rice.edu])

    Even geniuses and famous discoverers make mistakes.

    • Re:Galileo (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Stargoat ( 658863 ) <stargoat@gmail.com> on Thursday December 18, 2003 @01:55PM (#7755688) Journal
      "Even geniuses and famous discoverers make mistakes."

      Not much of a mistake though, considering. Remember the crude instruments he was working with. And the intellectual confines.

      It's a wonder that he did so much.

    • (Opposition being the term for when Saturn is on the OPPOSITE side of the sky from the sun, therefore, the sun is shining directly on Saturn and Earth is also closest to Saturn.)

      this does not follow. its entirely possible to have an Opposition in which the two planets are much farther apart than their closest approach. The earth could be at its closest approach to the sun, while Saturn is at its farthest (although I doubt the elliptical orbits align properly for this to happen), which would make them mu
      • Re:Galileo (Score:5, Informative)

        by barakn ( 641218 ) on Thursday December 18, 2003 @02:41PM (#7756141)
        "Earth is also closest to Saturn" merely means that they are on the same side of the sun rather than on opposite sides. Discussing the elliptical nature of the orbits takes the discussion to a whole new unnecessary level, especially considering that Saturn's and Earth's orbits are not very elliptical.
        • Re:Galileo (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Sparr0 ( 451780 )
          Maximum distance from Sun: 10.044 AU=1.503x10^9 km
          Minimum distance from Sun: 9.014 AU=1.348x10^9 km

          Maximum distance from Sun: 1.017 AU=1.521x10^8 km
          Minimum distance from Sun: 0.983 AU=1.471x10^8 km

          The two extreme cases for opposition (neither of which is possible because the two orbits arent aligned, but this illustrates the difference) put the planets at least 1.196x10^9 km apart, or at most 1.355x10^9 km apart. Thats a difference of about 159000000 (0s instead of scientific notation for
          • Re:Galileo (Score:3, Informative)

            by barakn ( 641218 )
            Comet Halley
            perihelion: 0.5871 AU
            aphelion: 35.25 AU

            So, as I was saying, Earth's and Saturn's orbits aren't that elliptical.

            I can draw you a picture if youd like.

            Please don't. I teach astronomy at a university. You're trying to explain some very complicated issues to an audience that was still trying to sort out the basics: whether an opposition is when the Earth is opposite the Sun from Saturn or when the Sun is opposite the Earth from Saturn. When the original poster said "Earth is also closest to S

    • Re:Galileo (Score:5, Insightful)

      by barakn ( 641218 ) on Thursday December 18, 2003 @02:29PM (#7756036)
      Since when is it a mistake to describe what you see using language an audience would understand? He saw three bright points, and he described them as three bright stars. If that was a mistake, then astronomers can do nothing besides make mistakes, because eventually someone will come along with a better optical instrument, see more detail, and describe the thing with new language.
    • Galileo exclamed that it looked like this planet has "ears",or as your quote says oOo form. I wonder when they were actually defined as rings?
  • by Jerf ( 17166 ) on Thursday December 18, 2003 @01:31PM (#7755488) Journal
    Yes, I know this has happened millions upon millions of times before, but this time it's the END OF THE EARTH FOR SURE! Stock up on your survival gear! Soon the planet will be torn asunder by gravitational resonance and Planet X will eat up the remainder of our planet in a fiesta of electromagnetic quantum something-or-other!

    What's different about this opposition? Why, that I'm aware of it of course!

    • by Jerf ( 17166 )
      To the moderator who modded my previous message as a troll: I envy your lack of exposure to loons who really believe various cosmic events that have happening millions of times signal the end of existance as we know it, but that's what we call a "satirization" of those loons. The first sentence, not to mention the second paragraph, should have been the giveaway. (Not to mention "something-or-other!".)

      Please turn in your mod points at the nearest recycling facility.
  • Uranus is the Closest. I always like how it looked.
  • by OneOver137 ( 674481 ) on Thursday December 18, 2003 @03:53PM (#7756868) Journal
    If you have a scope or know someone who does, get out and take a peek. Not only is Saturn at a favorable opposition (i.e, it's close to Earth), but the rings are steeply tilted, making for spectacular views. Just about any scope will show the ring system and a few moons, especially Titan. Saturn's features aren't as contrasty as those on Mars, so be patient at the eyepiece and you will see detail. Here's a few things to look for:

    • Cassini's Division
    • South Polar Hood
    • Shadow of planet on ring system
    • South Equatorial belts and zones
    • Enke Division (need a big scope)
    • Crepe ring (need a big scope)

    Most of these things can be seen with amateur scopes with at least 4" (102mm) aperture. Remember though that the atmosphere will cause the image to blur, so keep checking back on different nights if seeing is bad. Take a look at the Clear Sky Clock [cleardarksky.com] for your area. Happy viewing!
  • Check out the Foothill College Observatory [fhda.edu] on Friday nights. If they're not doing it already, I'm sure they'll be observing Saturn as the opposition approaches. It's always fun, and always informative.

    I had a chance to check out Saturn recently. This opposition will be quite good, indeed!
  • Saturnalia...? (Score:3, Informative)

    by ninejaguar ( 517729 ) on Friday December 19, 2003 @12:37AM (#7760808)
    Coincidentally, this event is happening during the same time of year as Saturnalia [historychannel.com]. If you're unfamiliar with the term, some people refer to the holiday as Christmas [holidays.net].

    = 9J =

  • Looking at Saturn is great and all (hell, I'll probably be doing it myself), but why aren't we nailing that sucker with a probe or something? When we got close to Mars, NASA and Europe fired off three probes, yet Saturn is the closest in 30 years and we aren't sending anything? Is there a rocket scientist here who wants to explain?

"We don't care. We don't have to. We're the Phone Company."