Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Saturn - The Planet of Lasts

There is one memory of my teenage years that stands out. And I am not sure why. It was a night in May, and I had got up to get a glass of water, and looking out through the kitchen window, there was Saturn low down.

Thanks to the chaos at London Waterloo yesterday evening, I did not get home until 1/2 past 11, when the sky looked like this (all images from Heavens Above):

Although Venus was behind houses, two other planets were visible - Jupiter and, low in the south east, Saturn.

There was, to me, something so right about Saturn being there, back more-or-less where it was when I had started out in astronomy, with its 29 year 5 month orbital period taking me from being a teenager to middle-aged. Mars and Jupiter go round more quickly, while everything Uranus does is once-in-a-lifetime.

Saturn is currently in Scorpius, next to the scorpion's bright head. On 13 December it will be in conjunction with Antares, the scorpion's bright red heart - sadly this event will be too close to the Sun in the sky to be seen. The morning of 9 January brings us something interesting near Antares (this is the sky at 1/2 past 7, as it is getting light):

An impressive collection of 4 planets in the morning sky. 4? Look more closely:

What is that thing to the left of Antares? The blue wording seems unclear. Is it saying Venus? Or Saturn?

Well, it's both - they will appear very close together.

Go forward nearly 3 years, and on 22 October 2018 Saturn begins its northwards journey (this is the sky at 1/2 past 6 in the evening, as it is getting dark):

Entering Capricornus on 22 March 2020, back into Sagittarius on 3 July 2020, then Capricornus again on 15 December 2020 (and quickly catching up with Jupiter), Aquarius on 13 February 2023, Pisces on 19 April 2025, back into Aquarius on 29 September 2025, Pisces again on 15 January 2026, and then crossing the celestial equator on 29 March 2026, before entering Cetus on 9 April 2026, back into Pisces on 3 June 2026, Cetus again on 5 September 2026, Pisces yet again on 23 February 2027, Cetus on 10 May 2028, Aries on 12 May 2028, Cetus on 22 December 2028, Aries again on 4 January 2029, and into Taurus on 22 July 2029.

Although it'll be very low down in the evening twilight, on 21 May 2031 - 16 years in the future, Saturn is in conjunction with Taurus' bright red star, Aldebaran.

By the time Saturn has gone all the way round and reached Antares again, I'll be an old man - if I am still alive. That is what struck me yesterday evening - that these coming months may be the last time I'll ever see Saturn in its rightful place.

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