The northern sky at 11:00 pm local daylight saving time as seen from mid latitudes in Australia on March 22, 2010. Similar views will be seen elsewhere in the Southern Hemisphere (click to embiggen)
On Monday, March 22 2010 Saturn will be at opposition. An opposition is any time the earth is directly between an astronomical object and the Sun. At this time, Saturn is the closest to earth and at its biggest and brightest as seen from Earth. Unlike Mars where the variation in its orbit means the size and brightness and location of Mars changes dramatically, the variation in Saturn is more subtle.
Seen with the unaided eye, Saturn is a modestly bright yellowish object almost midway between the bright white stars Regulus (the brightest star in Leo) and Spica (the brightest star in Virgo). Brighter than both those stars, Saturn forms a straight line with them and the bright Red Mars. On the 25th, 27th, 29th and 31st the waxing Moon visits Mars, Regulus Saturn and Spica in that order, so if you are unsure, you can use the Moon as your guide. Over a month, Saturn will move very slowly, heading slightly towards Regulus.
In good high-power binoculars (10x50 or bigger) Saturn appears as and elongated disk, it is clearly not circular, but you cannot distinguish the rings.
However, even in small telescopes, Saturns’ rings are distinct and enchanting. In larger telescopes they are spectacular. Saturns’ rings are opening up, after being edge on last year. While you won’t get the full glory of the rings compared to when they are most open, the rings are still an amazing sight. The telescopic view will repay many nights of observation.
Sturn as seen through a telescope on March 22 at 11 pm daylight saving time.
Saturns’ Moons can be interesting to follow too. In small telescopes, Titan is the only Moon readily visible, on the 22nd and the 30th, Titan will drift close to Saturns’ poles, and will be quite worthwhile following. For those with large telescopes, the dance of the smaller moons can be seen. You may wish to use you sketching skills to draw Saturn and Titan in theuir various aspects.
If you don’t have a telescope, why not take advantage of your local astronomical societies or the local planetariums open nights to view the ringed world. Unlike Mars, which shrinks rapidly after opposition making surface markings hard to see, Saturn will be well placed for viewing for some time, so you will have plenty of opportunity to see it.