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Saturn Conjunctions with other Planets, 2012-13

Moon near Saturn Dates, 2013

Saturn Through the Telescope


 The Position of Saturn in the Night Sky:

2006 to 2013

by Martin J. Powell

 

Where is Saturn now? This star chart shows the path of Saturn through Leo, Virgo and Libra from 2006 to 2013. Click for full-size image, 150 KB (Copyright Martin J Powell 2009)

The Path of Saturn against the background stars of Leo, Virgo and Libra from September 2006 to December 2013, with positions marked on the first day of each month (click on the thumbnail for the full-size image, 150 KB). The dates are colour-coded by year; a quick-glance legend is in the lower right corner (e.g. all 2009 positions are shown in yellow). Periods when the planet was unobservable (i.e. when it was too close to the Sun, or passed behind it) are indicated by a dashed line; hence Saturn became lost from view (in the evening sky) in mid-August 2008 and became visible again (in the morning sky) in late September 2008.

The chart shows the changing shape of Saturn's apparent looping formation as it moves through the zodiac. Saturn crossed the plane of the ecliptic (heading Northwards) in 2004-5, when it described a zig-zag formation in Gemini; it described hybrid formations (half loop, half zig-zag) during its passage through Cancer and into Leo, where they became conventional, Northward-facing loops. The star map applies to observers in the Northern hemisphere (i.e. North is up); for the Southern hemisphere view, click here (155 KB).

The faintest stars on the map have an apparent magnitude of about +4.8. Printer-friendly versions of this chart are available for Northern (67 KB) and Southern hemisphere (69 KB) views. Astronomical co-ordinates of Right Ascension (longitude, measured Eastwards in hrs:mins from the First Point of Aries) and Declination (latitude, measured in degrees North or South of the celestial equator) are marked around the border of the chart. A photograph of the region around Virgo, can be seen below; descriptions of the bright stars and deep-sky objects in the region (multiple stars, galaxies, etc.) can be found here.

Having spent the period from mid-2005 to mid-2006 in the constellation of Cancer, the Crab, Saturn entered Leo, the Lion, in August 2006. Its next three looping formations took place in this constellation, spending three years there before crossing into Virgo, the Virgin, in September 2009. Saturn crossed the celestial equator (declination = 0), heading Southwards, in late September 2010. It was positioned in Virgo for a little over three years before it entered Libra, the Scales (or the Balance) in early December 2012. Six months later, in mid-May 2013, the ringed planet returned to Virgo, moving retrograde and reaching its western stationary point in July, before re-entering Libra in late August 2013.

Details of the seven Saturnian oppositions covered by the above star map, together with the dates on which the planet reaches superior conjunction (when it passes behind the Sun as seen from the Earth) are given in the table below. Note how the planet's appearance changed markedly at each opposition, the ring system displaying varying tilt angles to the Earth as it orbited the Sun (for more details, see the diagram of Saturn's orbit).

Saturn opposition data for the period 2007 to 2013 (click for full-size image, 53 KB)

Saturn opposition data for the period 2007 to 2013 (click on thumbnail for full-size table, 53 KB). The Declination is the angle of the planet to the North (+) or South (-) of the celestial equator; on the star chart, it represents the planet's angular distance above or below the blue line. The angular diameter (or apparent size) of the planet as seen from Earth is given in arcseconds (where 1 arcsecond = 1/3600th of a degree). Note that Saturn's distance slowly increased over the period (as its headed towards aphelion), causing its angular diameter to shrink slightly year by year. The planet's apparent magnitude (brightness), after reaching a low point as the Earth passed through the ring-plane in 2009, began to brighten once more, despite the planet's increasing distance from the Earth. This is because the rings began opening up to view after 2009, reflecting more light back towards the Earth. The Ring Tilt (the ring plane opening angle to the Earth) is positive (+) when Saturn's Northern hemisphere was tipped towards the Earth and negative (-) when the planet's Southern hemisphere wais tipped towards the Earth; the maximum value it can attain is 27.0. The Ring Tilt values were obtained from the SETI Institute's Saturn Ephemeris Generator 2.3. All other data was obtained from 'MegaStar', 'Redshift', 'SkyGazer Ephemeris' and 'AstroViewer' software and the Saturn images were modified by the writer from NASA's Solar System Simulator.

 

[Terms in yellow italics are explained in greater detail in an associated article describing planetary movements in the night sky.]

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Saturn Conjunctions with other Planets,

2012 to 2013

The following table lists the conjunctions involving Saturn which took place between 2012 and 2013 at solar elongations of greater than 15. In several cases, other planets were also in the vicinity and these are detailed. Note that, because some of the conjunctions occurred in twilight, the planets involved may not have appeared as bright as their listed magnitude suggests.

Saturn conjunctions with other planets from 2012 to 2013 (click for full-size image, 32 KB)

Saturn conjunctions with other planets from 2012 to 2013 (click on thumbnail for full-size table, 32 KB). Note that there were no visible conjunctions involving Saturn in 2011. The column headed 'UT' is the Universal Time (equivalent to GMT) of the conjunction (in hrs : mins). The separation (column 'Sep') is the angular distance between the two planets, measured relative to Saturn, e.g. on 2012 Nov 27, Venus was positioned 0.5 South of Saturn at the time shown. The 'Fav. Hem' column shows the Hemisphere in which the conjunction was best observed (Northern, Southern and/or Equatorial). The expression 'Not high N Lats' indicates that observers at latitudes further North than about 50N were likely to have found the conjunction difficult or impossible to observe because of low altitude and/or bright twilight.

In the 'When Visible' column, a distinction is made between Dawn/Morning visibility and Dusk/Evening visibility; the terms Dawn/Dusk refer specifically to the twilight period before sunrise/after sunset, whilst the terms Evening/Morning refer to the period after darkness falls/before twilight begins (some conjunctions take place in darkness, others do not, depending upon latitude). The 'Con' column shows the constellation in which the planets were positioned at the time of the conjunction.

To find the direction in which the conjunctions were seen on any of the dates in the table, note down the constellation in which the planets were located ('Con' column) on the required date and find the constellation's rising direction (for Dawn/Morning apparitions) or setting direction (for Dusk/Evening apparitions) for your particular latitude in the Rise-Set direction table.

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Photograph of the constellations Virgo and Corvus. Click for full-size picture, 146 KBVirgo and Corvus  A photograph showing the region of the night sky through which Saturn passed during the 2009-12 observing seasons (click on thumbnail for full-size picture, 146 KB). The region of the 2006-13 star chart which is visible in the photograph is contained within the red trapezium shown here (47 KB) and an annotated version of the photograph can be seen here (221 KB). The picture was taken from latitude 51 North in the early morning hours of late January 2006. Virgo is seen at meridian transit (due South) and the distinctive keystone-shape of Corvus  is below it in the South-South-west. Both Leo and Crater are in the South-west (only the tail-end of Leo is visible in the photo). Stars in the upper region of the photo are visible down to about magnitude +8.0. Near the horizon, distant clouds (illuminated by streetlights) block Hydra's Eastern half from view. 

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Moon near Saturn Dates, 2013

On one or two days in each month, the Moon can be used as our celestial guide to help in locating Saturn in the sky. Use the following table to determine on which dates the Moon was in the vicinity of the planet:

Moon near Saturn dates for 2013 (click for full-size image, 35 KB)Moon near Saturn dates for 2013 (click on thumbnail for full-size table, 35 KB). No information is given for November because Saturn was too near the Sun at this time. The Date Range shows the range of dates worldwide (allowing for Time Zone differences across East and West hemispheres). Note that the dates, times and separations at conjunction (i.e. when the two bodies are at the same Right Ascension) are measured from the Earth's centre (geocentric) and not from the Earth's surface (times are given in Universal Time [UT], equivalent to GMT). The Sep. & Dir. column gives the angular distance (separation) and direction of the planet relative to the Moon, e.g. on July 17th at 00:56 UT, Saturn was 3.3 North of the Moon's centre. The Moon Phase shows whether the Moon was waxing (between New Moon and Full Moon), waning (between Full Moon and New Moon), at crescent phase (less than half of the lunar disk illuminated) or gibbous phase (more than half but less than fully illuminated).

During 2013, two lunar occultations of Saturn took place but they were only visible from Antarctica; the dates are marked in the table by an asterisk (*). For details, see the Astronomical Almanac website.

The Moon moves relatively quickly against the background stars in an Eastward direction, at about its own angular width (0.5) each hour (about 12.2 per day). Because it is relatively close to the Earth, an effect called parallax causes it to appear in a slightly different position (against the background stars) when seen from any two locations on the globe at any given instant; the further apart the locations, the greater the Moon's apparent displacement against the background stars. Therefore, for any given date and time listed in the table, the Moon will have appeared closer to Saturn when seen from some locations than from others. For this reason, the dates shown in the table should be used only for general guidance.

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The Position of Saturn, 2006-13 (Full Desktop Site)

The Naked-Eye Planets in the Night Sky

Planetary Movements through the Zodiac


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Credits


Copyright  Martin J Powell  April 2009


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