The ringed planet Saturn, already one of the solar system’s most dazzling sights, will shine bigger and brighter this month. On Monday, August 2, at around 1 a.m. the planet will reach alignment with the Earth and the sun in an event known as “opposition.” During this event, the sixth planet will reach its closest point to Earth and will shine at its absolute brightest.
This writer’s suggestion: Crank this apropos Texas tune while you read on. There’s really no better way to get pumped for a spectacular planet sighting.
When will Saturn be at its brightest?
Saturn will be at its brightest August 1 through August 4. Saturn will arrive at opposition to the Sun on August 2 and will glow as brightly as the similarly yellow-hued star Capella at magnitude +0.1, according to Space.com. Saturn will reach its brightest point at about 2 a.m. EDT (1 a.m. local time) on early Monday morning. Don’t want to wake up at 1 a.m. Monday morning? We don’t blame you. If you miss the the ringed planet at its absolute brightest, worry not -- it will shine bright in the night sky throughout the month of August.
“Don’t worry about exact times too much. Just know that – in early August 2021 – Saturn is generally opposite the sun in Earth’s sky,” EarthSky.org reported. “At opposition, Saturn rises in the east around sunset, climbs highest up for the night around midnight and sets in the west around sunrise. When opposite the sun, Saturn is visible all night and at its brightest seen from Earth.”
How can you see Saturn at opposition?
First, it’s important to note that though Saturn will be in opposition, it will still be hard to distinguish it from other celestial bodies in the night sky. A good pair of binoculars or a telescope will save you from squinting.
“Even when it is at its closest point to the Earth, it is not possible to distinguish it as more than a star-like point of light without the aid of a telescope,” In-the-sky.org reported.
Second, yes, as one wildly popular Texas tune claims the stars (and planets) at night are big and bright and the prairie sky is wide and high, deep in the heart of Texas. But in Houston and the state’s other big cities? Not so much. Ironically, here in Space city, the solar system’s superior celestial sights elude us and Texas’s famous stars at night remain hidden behind some serious light pollution. Those who want to pick Saturn out in the night sky pick out the distant planet in the night sky may need to motor a good ways far way rom as many bright city lights as possible. For you city folk we suggest, grabbing a good pair of binoculars or a telescope and driving somewhere quite a bit darker than downtown Houston.
How can you find Saturn in the night sky?
Earthsky.org recommends first searching for Jupiter, the brightest celestial object in the evening sky once Venus sinks below the western horizon after sunset. Saturn is not far from Jupiter and is located along the same path the sun travels during the day. Saturn is the bright gold star-like object west of Jupiter. Saturn lies in the direction of the constellation Capricornus and can be found throughout the duration of the year.
When will other planets be at opposition in 2021?
- Jupiter will arrive at opposition to the Sun on August 20.
- Uranus will arrive at opposition to the Sun on November 4.
- Neptune will arrive at opposition to Sun on September 14.
Where to stargaze in and around the Houston area:
Do you want to escape the hubbub of the city, breathe in some fresh air and gander at some of the solar system’s superior celestial sights but don’t have enough energy (or vacation days) to trek out to the middle of nowhere? Here are 4 Houston-area locales offering dark skies, relatively dark skies or a really big telescope ideal for stargazing in an area less than ideal for the practice at large.
Don’t get caught off guard. Before venturing out, familiarize yourself with adjusted hours and follow guidelines around social distancing and other COVID-19 safety measures required by the destinations you visit.