How to See Saturn Through a Telescope in 2019

Last Updated: 27th March 2019

Observing The Ringed Planet – An Introduction

Viewing Saturn through a telescope is the exact event that started many amateur astronomer’s passion for stargazing. When I bought my first small telescope, the first object that I ever managed to point it at turned out to be the ringed planet. It is quite simply my favourite celestial object to observe in the night sky. I’ll never forget the first time I saw Saturn through my brand new home telescope. It was in the backyard of my parent’s house and I was absolutely dumbfounded and just stared at it for more than an hour or so, looking back and forth from the eyepiece to naked-eye, enchanted that the pinpoint of light I could see was actually a planet. I remember being able to see some of the saturnian moons too …The detail, the 3D looking feel of the planet, and clarity of the rings were stunning.

Galileo Galilei was the first person to ever observe Saturn through a telescope in 1610 and here was I, a few hundred years later, looking at the same planet with a much better instrument that he had at the time.

It really made my passion for the universe grow further.

image and heading for Saturn

Can you see Saturn through any telescope?

Saturn through a telescope is something everyone should see at least once. You do not need to own an expensive or very powerful refracting / reflecting telescope to observe it satisfyingly. From all the planets that can be observed, Saturn is the best one to see in a small telescope because it is always quite bright and it looks great even with modest magnification.

Even through an amateur telescope, the image is really beautiful, especially if the atmosphere above you is stable and offer good seeing opportunity: you will be able to enjoy a clear image of many of the planet’s features when observing on colder nights. In my experience, when people observe the ringed planet for the first time, they usually hardly believe that it is not a photograph or some simulated image. It is the kind of moment that makes any beginners with a telescope feel all the effort was worth it.

It really gives us a sense that the universe is truly a big place, and that experience makes us feel truly small.

When is the best time to observe Saturn through a telescope?

Every year, a favourable event during several months called opposition makes it possible to admire Saturn with the best conditions. This celestial event is the moment when the planet is almost as close to the Earth as possible and it is a particularly exciting opportunity for stargazers. During opposition, Saturn is opposite to the Sun in relation to the Earth: the planet is visible all night and reaches its highest point in the sky in the middle of the night.

The opposition is the best time to observe Saturn through a telescope

It’s always good to preemptively check where the planet will be placed on the night you have planned your viewing session. Depending on where you live on Earth and the time of the year, Saturn may not be well-placed. If it’s low in the sky, a lot of atmospheres may be clogging up the view.

How to find Saturn with a telescope

Saturn is really far from the Sun and takes about 29.5 years to complete one full orbit around it. This means that from our point of view, we can find Saturn positioned in the same constellation for 2.5 years until it moves on to the next constellation. This year, the ringed planet hangs out around the Sagittarius constellation and will be visible in the early morning sky until it reaches opposition around the 9th of July. During that time frame, Saturn will rise and set two hours earlier every month. At this point, it will be clearly visible every night then slip into the evening twilight at the end of the year. 

If you happen to own a computerised telescope (or go-to telescope), you will simply need to align it first then enter some navigational information such as latitude and longitude, your current time and time zone, etc. Your instrument will make some calculation between sky coordinates (where are celestial objects currently positioned in the sky) and the telescope coordinates (where you are positioned on the Earth). This will give your telescope an approximate alignment.

For smaller telescopes, you will have to identify find the planet with your naked eye first. It’s not hard to do: Saturn tends to have a yellowish glow and it does not twinkle as stars do.

Nowadays, there are many applications that make finding planets in the night sky a lot easier.

Finding Saturn with your phone

If you are stuck in your planetary hunting, there are a number of free applications for mobile that can help you track down Saturn during your stargazing sessions.
 
These apps can show you what’s in the sky and their exact position in real time. Use the search function and enter the celestial object you wish to find, it will point you in the right direction. It’s easy and will save you some time. Once you know what your are looking out, point your telescope towards it and enjoy the view.

 Star Walk 2 – Apple Store / Google Play

Which Telescope is best to observe Saturn and its moons?

In terms of planetary observation, Saturn is a relatively easy telescopic target. You don’t necessarily need to have the fanciest optical equipment to obtain a good visual. The planet can be seen in a small amateur telescope, starting from a 3-inch refractor model and above. Remember that Galileo was able to see Saturnian rings with his small telescope that he built hundreds of years ago, so you don’t need the most expensive instrument on the market.

Obviously, the larger the instrument the better, mainly because large apertures have better resolution (the ability to reveal small details). However, during good atmospheric conditions (no turbulence, no winds, no light pollutions, etc.) you can expect to be able to see Saturn’s rings and some of its moons.

Saturn has 4 main moons: Titan, Rhea, Tethys and Dione. These celestial bodies can be observed in scopes of medium aperture, granted that viewing conditions are good and the moon are not positioned too far from the planet. Mimas is another moon that can sometimes be seen but can be difficult due to its closeness to the rings. Titan is the easiest to catch and can be seen in almost any scope.

If you’re unsure and not ready to invest in a telescope just yet, we recommend finding a local astronomy club and talking to some friendly astronomy folks there. Take a look through their scopes and just be willing to learn. They’ll point you in the right direction.

What does Saturn look like with a telescope?

“Our solar system is fantastically bizarre. There are worlds with features we never imagined. Storms larger than planets, moons with under-surface oceans, lakes of methane, worldlets that swap places...and that's just at Saturn.”

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