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Saturn at Opposition

April 14, 2012

Saturn is putting in its best appearance of the year this week. The planet lines up opposite the Sun in our sky. It rises around sunset, scoots fairly low across the south during the night, and sets around sunrise. It’s closest now, too, so it shines brightest. It looks like a bright golden star low in the eastern sky at nightfall, with the true star Spica close to its right.

While those of us here on Earth appreciate the view of Saturn, one of our emissaries will be enjoying the view from Saturn.

The Cassini spacecraft is scheduled to zip just 50 miles from Enceladus, one of Saturn’s most intriguing moons. It’s coated with fresh ice that makes it one of the whitest and brightest objects in the solar system. Some of that ice comes from inside Enceladus -- from water that squirts out through geysers near its south pole.

This is the second of three close-range passes for Cassini in about six weeks. The first came in late March, with the last scheduled for early May.

As Cassini approaches Enceladus, its camera will look back toward Earth. It probably won’t see much, because Earth lines up close to the Sun as seen from Saturn. Our planet’s dayside will face away from Saturn, so Cassini will be looking at the nightside.

Even if it doesn’t see us, though, Cassini will still take aim at Earth -- beaming back more pictures of Enceladus and many other wonders of Saturn -- a planet that’s putting on its own wonderful show all night.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2012


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