Titan tap dances around Saturn

Apr 1

Written by:
4/1/2013 12:55 PM  RssIcon

The Moons of Jupiter are often described as "shuttling" back and forth on either side of that planet, and that is because Jupiter's tilt is a mere 3 degrees.  Saturn on the other hand, is tilted at 26.7 degrees.  In one way, that is incredibly fortunate for us, as when the tilt is at maximum to Earth's perspective ever 15 years or so, we see the best views of it's ring structure!  What that also serves to so though, is cause some people to misinterpret Saturn's Moons as stars, because they aren't expecting them to be in locations outside of a "nearly straight line" like Jupiter's moons are.

And this week, we have front-row seats to quite a display of Saturn's moon Titan.  This moon is not nearly as bright as the Galilean moons.  They shine at 6th magnitude, despite being smaller.  However, that is aided by the fact that they are some 300+ million miles closer to Earth as well!  So to spot Titan, you'll either need dark skies and a 60mm scope or larger, or a 114mm to 150mm telescope under moderate to severely light polluted skies.  

Check out the graphic below; you can see how Titan will move from well outside one of Saturn's rings, to slipping towards the south pole of Saturn.  Of course, it only appears to be near the south pole - it reality, the moon is still quite some distance from the planet.  It's merely the line-of-sight view we have from Earth that cause it to look that close to the globe of the ringed planet.

Look in the southeast around midnight, or early in the morning before sunrise towards the southwest. Saturn is about 15 degrees from the bluish-white star Spica, off to it's west.  Forming a near-perfect right triangle with these two objects is Arcturus, visibly more orange than Spica, and "up" more towards overhead than either of them.  It lies about 30 degrees from the planet.  To the east is Antares, which should glow even more orange than Arcturus.

Use a small telescope at 120x to 150x magnification or greater to locate Titan this week as it revolves around our solar system's 6-th major planet.  The chart below shows the location of the planet at around 1:00 am each day, Central Daylight Time in the U.S., but you can still see the motions as it changes night-to-night from any location worldwide.  The position just may be slightly different.

For more information on what you can find and see in the night sky every week, see the homepage of Eyes on the Sky.  Light pollution reduction begins with you, and you can take simple steps to reduce night sky glow without compromising safety.  

See Titan near Saturn, April 1 thru April 7

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The Nightlight

This blog includes what to see in the night and daytime skies, thoughts on telescopes, binoculars, and other astronomy observing accessories and equipment, plus my own occasional notes on objects I've seen and observed. Oh, and the random theater or other "my take on life" post. In other words, there is always something interesting. Check it out.