So you took a walk last night and you saw two beautiful bright stars. It was the planet Venus and the bright star Sirius, but look out – don’t miss cute little Saturn coming up in the East!
So, look up, high in the West after sunset. You’ll see this object that is SO BRIGHT you won’t be able to believe it’s something celestial, but I promise you, it is.
Venus is a planet, not a star, though without a telescope it looks for all the world like a star. It’s truly beautiful, even here in Seattle, and if you’ve got a telescope or a good pair of binoculars you should be able to see that it has a crescent phase, or at least that it’s not perfectly round.
Venus is even bright enough to see it before dark, if you know where to look. Find Venus in the dark night sky one night, and the next night go out just after sunset, or after the Sun is behind a tall building for you, and look a little higher in the sky than you saw it the previous night.
The brightest star in the whole night sky is sparkling low-ish in the South tonight. Its twinkling looks like its flashing redgreenblueredwhiteredbluegreenredbluewhitebluewhiteblue. You might even think it’s an airplane, but watch for a couple minutes and you’ll see it’s not moving.
It’s dim, and rises late – I saw it last week around 8:45pm, but it was pretty stuck in the mucky light pollution over Seattle (from my point of view). If you wait until just a little later it should be higher. The exciting thing about Saturn is that the rings are edge on right now.
Saturn’s rings are tilted in relation to the plane of the solar system. Imagine the desk in front of you is the plane of the solar system. All the planets (except Pluto) orbit within that plane – they stay in the desk as they go around. Now hold your hand up, flat against the desk. Tilt it up. That’s how Saturn’s rings are tilted, just like the Earth’s axis. And just like the Earth’s axis stays tilted the same direction (pointed at the North star), which means that sometimes the North pole is pointed at the Sun, and sometimes it’s pointed away. So, as Saturn rotates around the Sun, sometimes we see the rings almost surrounding the disk of Saturn, and sometimes we see just the edge.
If you look with a small telescope it’s totally worth it, but you’ll have to concentrate to see the hint of the rings.