Crash Course Astronomy: Saturn.

Crash Course Astronomy: Saturn!

Crash Course Astronomy: Saturn!

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
May 22 2015 7:00 AM

Crash Course Astronomy: The Lord of the Rings

Saturn!
Saturn, images by Cassini, and processed by Gordan Ugarkovic. This is one of the finest astronomical images ever taken, period. Click to encronosenate.

Photo by NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute/Gordan Ugarkovic

Who out there doesn’t need a little more Saturn in their life? I can deliver.

This was a cool one to record. Even though we’d done 17 episodes before, I like to play with the format a little bit. I was a little more relaxed when we shot this, leaning back in the chair more and just having more fun with it. I hope that shows.

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I know I’ll get asked about this, so to head the question off: Yes, Saturn’s rings really are thinner to scale than paper, by a lot. I’ve done the math.

For clarity, I’ll note that there are places where Saturn’s rings are thicker than 10 meters; they range up to a kilometer thick in some regions. But bear in mind that’s still compared to their 300,000 km diameter! That’s a heckuva ratio.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

And why not: Here’s an article I wrote about what would happen if Saturn made a close approach to Earth, inspired by a very cool video showing what it would look like. You’ll like it.

As for Saturn itself, now is a great time to go out and see it. By a funny coincidence, Saturn is at opposition tonight: That means it’s opposite the Sun in the sky, rising at sunset and setting at sunrise. It’s up all night, and that also means it’s as close to Earth as it will get for the year (about 1.34 billion km). If you want to see the planet for yourself—and oh my, yes you do—the next few weeks are the best time to do it.

Find a local observatory or nearby astronomy club; I imagine they’ll have viewings. I expect some people will be thinking of buying a telescope, too, so read this first!

Saturn through a telescope can be literally life-changing. It changed mine, and it’s done so for others. Go look.