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Saturn has been looking stunning lately, and it's preparing to dance close to the moon to display an incredible celestial illusion.
Late tonight (June 18), what are probably the top two objects that people want to look at through a telescope will be visible low in the east-southeast sky: the moon and the "ringed wonder" of the solar system, Saturn. Shortly after 10 p.m. local daylight saving time, you'll readily see the nearly full disk of the moon; glowing sedately like a bright yellow-white "star" to the moon's upper left will be the sixth planet from the sun.
Saturn - Magnitude - +0 - Stars - Tad
Right now, Saturn shines at magnitude +0.2. If we compared it against the 21 brightest stars, it would rank eighth, making it just a tad brighter than the similarly hued Procyon in the constellation Canis Minor and a trifle dimmer than bluish-white Rigel in Orion.
Saturn appears bright in part because it's three weeks away from its opposition to the sun, that moment during a particular period of its visibility when a planet beyond Earth's orbit is passing closest to us.
Reason - Saturn - Brighter - Fact - Rings
Another reason Saturn will appear brighter than usual is the fact that its amazing rings are still tilted toward Earth at an inclination of 24 degrees. The rings, which are composed of highly reflective particles of ice, bolster Saturn's apparent brightness.
I have been able to glimpse the rings with very large (25 x 100) binoculars, mounted on a sturdy tripod. Through a 4-inch telescope with a magnification of 100-power, the rings can clearly be seen; with a moderately large instrument of 8-inch aperture at 200-power, the view is nothing short of breathtaking. Viewing Saturn through a 12-inch telescope at 300-power is truly a stupefying experience whether you're seeing it for the first or 10,000th time.
Unfortunately, right now, Saturn never gets very high...
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