by Deane Morrison
Saturn has been playing second fiddle to Mars all year, but in June the red planet fades while the ringed planet reaches its pinnacle.
Saturn’s big moment comes overnight on the 2nd-3rd, when Earth laps it in the orbital race. At that time Saturn will be opposite the sun in the sky and up all night. Also, its rings are now very favorably tilted for telescopic viewing.
They were well tilted in 1610, too, when Galileo discovered them. His telescope couldn’t resolve their structure, and he thought Saturn was sandwiched between two close—and gigantic—moons. Later, as Earth passed through the ring plane, the rings turned edge-on and disappeared, adding to his confusion. In 1659 Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens, benefiting from a better telescope, published his theory that Saturn was encircled by a ring. But it wasn’t until the 1850s that the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell showed, using mathematics, that the rings were not solid, but made up of particles now known to consist of ice, dust and rock.The content you are trying to access is only available to members. Sorry.