Magic of the Heavens

Posted September 02, 2009 by User 1

For the first time in many years, Jupiter, along with Saturn, will make their neighborhood disappear. How, you ask? They each have their own special way of tricks.

Many people know Jupiter. It's the sixth planet from the sun and the largest and most massive. Nearly everyone who's owned and used a telescope has seen and its 4 moons. Take a look tonight though, and you'd be in for a surprise. You'll see big bright Jupiter all right, but when you look for its moons, they're nowhere to be found! Two of them, Callisto and Io, will be hidden behind the disk invisible to all. The other two, Ganymede and Europa, will be in front, and should be visible to those who look carefully or have larger telescopes. The event begins on September 3, 04:43 UT and ends 06:32 UT. The entire event, beginning with Callisto going behind the planet and ending with Callisto reappearing is from September 2, 23:28 UT to September 3, 08:44 UT.

Sky and Telescope:

Just one planet away is Saturn, the ringed planet...except if you try viewing it over the next few days, especially on September 4, you'll see nothing. Where did the rings go? At this moment, we are going through what's known as a ring-plane crossing; in other words, the rings appear edge-on. This occurs every 15 years as we cross through the plane of Saturn's rings. Although wide, the rings are no thicker than about 30 feet, or 10 meters. Trying to see that from Earth is like trying to see a piece of paper turned edge-on in Los Angeles from Seattle!

Earlier, in August, we made a similar article when the rings turned edge-on for the sun. It allowed the Cassini spacecraft, which is orbiting Saturn, to obtain high resolution images of the rings due to the low angle of of sunlight hitting the ringlits. It was at equinox at that point. More info on that:

Note however, that at this point, Saturn is just 11 degrees away from the sun, making it almost impossible to safely observe. In the coming months, when the rings begin to open up again, it will pull away from the sun giving us the very first view of Saturn's blue north pole (as discovered by Cassini in 2005:

Happy viewing to everyone!


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