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Saturn’s Rings: Now You See Them, Soon You Won’t

Posted by BC on April 1st, 2008

saturn.jpg What first comes to mind when you hear the name Saturn? Rings, right? If the rings are what you want to view, you should do it soon. In September of next year you won’t see them, at least for awhile.

What we are witnessing is called a ring-plane crossing, and we see it every 14 to 15 years. As Saturn orbits the Sun the rings are periodically tipped edge-on as viewed from Earth. Viewing a ringless Saturn causes some confusion with people who are not familiar with planetary motions. The traditional view is what people expect, but the new view provides us with a great opportunity to introduce some physics to a potentially new audience.

I plan to brush up on the laws, clean up the cameras, and organize some public sessions for the magic of planetary motion.

For more information, go to the NASA link about the vanishing rings.

3 people have commented

Matthew Ota said,

While we all like to look at Saturn’s lovely rings, we can take advantage of the ring plane crossing by looking at Saturn’s satellites instead.

Saturn’s ring cycle is so long that it is one of the astronomical cycles that a serious amateur astronomer has to plan for across a lifetime of observing…


Astronomy This’n’that « Mr. B’s Science Gateway said,

[…] Saturn’s rings: now you see them, soon you won’t (courtesy: Astronomy Today) What first comes to mind when you hear the name Saturn? Rings, right? If the rings are what you want to view, you should do it soon. In September of next year you won’t see them, at least for awhile. […]


Glenn Shields said,

Here is a chance to bring amateur astronomy “down to earth.” In an age of sound bites and photo ops, Saturn will entertain us for years to come. You can start by observing Algol’s short cycle almost any time, then catch the occasional lunar eclipse (solar if you are rich!), then a comet such as Halley’s for a person with an average life-span, and so on. But the closing of Saturn’s rings really hit home for me, remembering some Mojave desert nights in the mid-nineties when the rings were glorious. Now wanting to get back into observing and sharing some views, there are no rings to see! Patience will bring them back. Fortunately, there remains so much more than a lifetime of deep-sky observing to keep us all occupied.
Good seeing to all!!


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