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Saturn at close opposition

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(31st December 2003)

By Salvador J. Ribas

On 31st December 2003, Saturn will be directly on the opposite side of Earth from the Sun. This situation means that Saturn will rise as the Sun sets, reaching its highest point in the southern sky at midnight and setting as the Sun rises. This phenomenon is what we commonly call opposition. Saturn will be, in this particular case, at the closest position for three decades.

Saturn per la sonda Cassini

Saturn as seen by Cassini-Huygens spacecraft (10th December 2003)
(Courtesy of NASA, JPL and Caltech)

Saturn spends 29.42 years travelling around the Sun, following a slightly elliptical orbit, which drove it to be at its perihelion (the closest position to the Sun) last 26th July. The close coincidence of perihelion and opposition dictates that on New Year's Eve, Saturn will be closer to Earth than at any time since December 1973. The ringed planet will be 1.2 billion km from the Earth. It will not be so close until January of 2034.

Situació de Saturn respecte la Terra

Stellar Map produced by Salvador Ribas using The Sky Software & Corel Photo-Paint.

There's a bonus. Saturn's rings are not always well tilted for viewing. Sometimes they are edge on, as seen from the Earth, and unimpressive. Right now, the rings are still dramatically tipped -- more than 25º to our line of sight. This makes possible to see the planet in all its glory, and it also stresses Saturn’s brightness.

By the end of December, Saturn will be shining as bright as it can ever get, at a magnitude of –0.5 (-0.9 at opposition). Among the stars, only Sirius and Canopus will be brighter.

Carta de Saturn

Stellar Map produced by Salvador Ribas using The Sky Software & Corel Photo-Paint.

The ringed planet is easy to find right now. It is currently in the constellation of Gemini, the Twins. Saturn is found between the legs of the twins.

Part of the information comes from space.com and NASA.

Images from net surfers:

Send us your photographs to the mail serviastro@am.ub.es!!!
We will post them on this page so that everybody can contemplate them.

The samples we have received at the moment are the following:

Agrupació d'Astronomia d'Alella and members of the Department of Astronomy and Meteorology of the University of Barcelona

Saturn com una esfera verda envoltada d'anells blancs
Saturn i una de les seves llunes

Images obtained with webcam at Alella's Observatory.
Processing: Xavier Redón (AAA) with the software Registax.
Date/Place: 30th December 2003, Alella (Barcelona).

Francesc Vilardell and Salvador Ribas (University of Barcelona)

Saturn sense color amb els filtres V i B de Johnson

Images obtained with a CCD ST6 with Johnson's filters V and B at Alella's Observatory, with some clouds.
Date/Place: 30th December 2003, Alella (Barcelona)

Fotografia de Saturn i els seus anells amb un meravellós color  verd

Image obtained with a CCD Pixcel 237 with Johnson's filters BVR at Alella's Observatory.
Processing: Salvador Ribas with the program Iris.
Date/Place: 21st January 2004, Alella (Barcelona)

Jordi Torra (University of Barcelona)

Saturn amb els seus anells (I)
Saturn amb els seus anells (II)
Saturn amb els seus anells (III)

Images obtained with a Sony digital camera from Alella's Observatory.
Date/Place: 31st December 2003, Alella (Barcelona).

Jesús Miguel Ríos Palacios

Saturn amb excel·lents detalls dels anells
Saturn amb detalls dels anells i el propi planeta

Image obtained with webcam in a 8" telescope from Huetor Vega (Granada) and Sierra Nevada, respectively.
Processing: Jesús Ríos with the software Registax and Photoshop 6.
The agressive processing with Photoshop implies the introduction of some unreal colours but makes possible to observe some details which would be invisible in any other way.
Date/Place: 6th and 12th January 2004, Huetor Vega and Sierra Nevada

Agrupació d'Astronomia d'Alella

Imatge de Saturn en la qual es distingeix perfectament un doble  anell

Image obtained with webcam from the Observatory of Alella.
Processing: Albert Ferrer (AAA) with the software Registax.
Date/Place: 7th January 2004, Alella (Barcelona)

Juan Carlos Casado

Meravellosa imatge de Saturn amb una excel·lent resolució

Image obtained with webcam using the 50 cm telescope property of the University of Mons , placed at the Observatorio del Teide of the IAC
Date/Place: 7th November 2003

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