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Sky watch: See Saturn up close in April

It is said that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, so if we were to ask which is the most beautiful of all the planets we should expect a variety of answers.

Is it the delicate white crescent of Venus? The undulating cloud bands and dancing moons of Jupiter? The ominously red planet Mars? One can easily make a case for each of these, as well as for our own blue and white Earth.

But if you're like most stargazers, you'd probably answer: "the ringed planet Saturn." So for all you Saturn lovers out there, this month's for you!

Saturn reaches its "opposition" point this week (on Sunday) when it appears in our sky opposite the sun, rising in the east at sunset and glistening all night.

To spot Saturn, find the bright yellowish star Arcturus in the eastern sky by following the Big Dipper's handle down to the horizon. To Arcturus' right lie two other bright "stars." The lower and fainter one is Spica. The upper one is Saturn.

Saturn's opposition also means it's closest to the Earth. This week it approaches to nearly 800 million miles, and can be seen through a small telescope. A larger telescope will show not only the rings visible through a small device, but also the separations between them (the Cassini Divisions). Saturn's moon Titan also appears with small instruments.

Saturn is made almost entirely of gasses, with a diameter about 9.5 times greater than the Earth's. Its rings, if brought here, would fill much of the space between our planet and the moon. Though they appear solid, we know the rings are billions of ice chunks revolving about the planet at tens of thousands of miles per hour.Saturn will remain in our evening sky throughout the summer, but during the next month or so expect it to offer a truly spectacular sight through a small telescope. If you don't have a telescope of your own, call your local planetarium or amateur astronomy club to see when their next public "star party" will be so you don't miss this remarkable sight.

So one glimpse at this world and you'll agree Saturn is the most beautiful planet of our solar system


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