Up close to Lord of the Rings

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AWESOME: A detailed view of Saturn's rings obtained by Casini's spacecraft last year.
AWESOME: A detailed view of Saturn's rings obtained by Casini's spacecraft last year.


Viewers can have the spectacular celestial view on January 28 night

CHENNAI: On January 28, the Saturn, the ringed planet, will be closer to the Earth and brighter than any of the other planets.

Skygazers can enjoy a spectacular view of the planet throughout the night it will set only by sunrise the next day. As the Sun sets, Saturn will rise in full glory taking up position diametrically opposite to the Sun in relation to the Earth.

Astronomers call this opposition. "This is an advantageous time to observe the planet," says P. Iyamperumal, Executive Director of Tamil Nadu Science and Technology Centre. In this position it will be fully illuminated by the Sun and appear very bright.

According to him, on this day the ringed planet will be 121.6 crore kilometres away from the Earth. In the opposition position by 4. 18 hours Indian Standard Time (IST), the apparent angular size of Saturn will grow to 20.51 arc seconds (one arc second is 1/3600 of a degree).

To add to the beauty of the event, the planet's retrograde movement will take it very close to the spectacularly bright star cluster called the Beehive or Praesepe Cluster (M44), in the constellation of Cancer. "There is an interesting spectacle in store for those who observe the night sky that day," says the director. The rings of the planet will be tilted by an angle of 18 degrees, allowing the planet to be seen in its full glory.

"With the help of earth-based telescopes we will be able to view the Saturn's moons, rings and the Cassini division (largest gap between the rings) clearly," added Mr. Iyamperumal.

Saturn brightens in this month from magnitude - 0.1 to -0.2. (In the magnitude scale brighter objects have smaller magnitudes). "But the ring tilt decreases each year until 2009, when we will see it edge-on, with a nearly invisible view of the rings. Another opposition of Saturn will occur on February 2007. But at that time the brightness and tilt of the rings will be lesser," said the director.

Arrangements have been made at the B. M. Birla Planetarium, Chennai to view the planet. People can visit the planetarium between 6. 30 p.m. and 10 p.m.




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