Moon and Saturn

StarDate: March 28, 2010

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The bright Moon keeps company with a bright planet the next couple of nights. They're in good view in the east by 8 or 9 o'clock. Saturn stands to the left or lower left of the Moon, and looks like a bright golden star; in fact, it's at its brightest for the entire year.

A dozen men have walked on the surface of the Moon. But no one will ever leave a footprint on the surface of Saturn, because the planet doesn't have a surface.

Saturn probably does have a solid core that's bigger and heavier than Earth. But the core is surrounded by hydrogen and helium. The hydrogen may be squeezed so tightly that it acts like a metal, helping produce the planet's magnetic field. The metallic hydrogen is surrounded by a layer of hydrogen gas that's many thousands of miles thick. And the whole thing is topped by clouds of frozen ammonia and other molecules that give the planet a buttery color.

But people may someday visit Saturn nonetheless. They may walk on some of its icy moons. They may even float above Saturn's clouds in big blimps. From such a lofty vantagepoint, Saturn's rings would form wide, sparkling bands across the sky. Icy particles from the inner edge of the rings might occasionally fall into the planet's atmosphere, creating bright "shooting stars" -- glowing projectiles in an alien sky.

For now, we'll have to enjoy Saturn from afar. Look for it to the left of the Moon tonight, and to its upper left tomorrow night.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2003, 2010

For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.

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