See Saturn at opposition in August 2022

Make the most of Saturn at opposition this month with our guide to observing the planets.

LRGB Saturn 23.05.2011 by Piotr Maliäski, Warszawa, Poland.
Published: July 25, 2022 at 2:35 pm
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Saturn reaches opposition on 14 August 2022, a time so-named because the planet is in the opposite part of the sky to the Sun.

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A view of Saturn in the week running up to opposition will show the rings getting brighter.

In the week after opposition, Saturn's rings slowly appear to revert back to their normal brightness.

This is due to what’s known as the opposition effect, a phenomenon caused by the shadows of the ring particles being reduced to a minimum as seen from Earth at opposition.

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Saturn’s rings appear brighter near to opposition than at other times, as this compare and contrast shows. Credit: Pete Lawrence
Saturn’s rings appear brighter near to opposition than at other times, as this compare and contrast shows. Credit: Pete Lawrence

As has been the case for several years now, it’s Saturn’s north pole which is angled towards us.

The tilt angle is slowly decreasing year on year, with minor variations within each year.

Through August 2022 it changes from +13.3 to +14.3, which is low enough to keep the north-south extremes of the rings well within the boundaries of the planet’s globe.

At present they extend to a point roughly half-way between the apparent centre and poles of the planet.

How to see Saturn at opposition

Chart showing the position of Saturn in August 2022, when the planet reaches opposition
Chart showing the position of Saturn in August 2022, when the planet reaches opposition. Credit: Pete Lawrence

At opposition Saturn manages a peak brightness of mag. +0.3 and is above the horizon from when the sky begins to darken to when it brightens with the onset of dawn.

The full Moon sits near to Saturn on the nights of 11/12 and 12/13 August.

Saturn’s declination is slowly increasing which means it’s getting higher in UK skies.

This is a good thing as far as viewing the planet goes, as Saturn will appear less affected by low-level atmospheric turbulence.

Through a telescope, the rings are the most obvious feature, but attention should be made to look for variations on the disc as well.

As well as subtle banding, bright patches representing storms may sometimes be seen as well.

See the planets in the sky, August 2022

The phase and relative sizes of the planets in August 2022. Each planet is shown with south at the top, to show its orientation through a telescope
The phase and relative sizes of the planets in August 2022. Each planet is shown with south at the top, to show its orientation through a telescope. Credit: Pete Lawrence

Saturn

  • Best time to see: 14 August, 00:00 UT
  • Altitude: 22º (low)
  • Location: Capricornus
  • Direction: South
  • Features: Rings, banded atmosphere, weather systems
  • Recommended equipment: 75mm or larger

Mercury

  • Best time to see: 1 August, 30 minutes after sunset
  • Altitude: 2º (extremely low)
  • Location: Leo
  • Direction: West-northwest

On 1 August, Mercury shines at mag. –0.5 but sets just 40 minutes after the Sun. At greatest eastern elongation on 27 August, despite an impressive 27.3º separation from the Sun, the mag. +0.3 planet sets 30 minutes after sunset and is unlikely to be seen.

Venus

  • Best time to see: 1 August, 30 minutes before sunrise
  • Altitude: 11º
  • Location: Gemini
  • Direction: East-northeast

On 1 August, Venus rises 120 minutes before the Sun and shines at mag. –3.8. By 31 August it rises 90 minutes ahead of the Sun.

Through a telescope, Venus appears as an almost full circle at the end of the month, 97%-lit and 10 arcseconds across. A slender 4%-lit waning crescent Moon lies 9º above Venus, as seen from the UK, on the morning of 25 August and as a very thin 1%-lit waning crescent 4.3º from Venus on the morning of 26 August.

Mars

  • Best time to see: 31 August, 04:00 UT
  • Altitude: 51º
  • Location: Taurus
  • Direction: Southeast

Mars starts the month at mag. +0.2, 1.3º to the south of mag. +5.8 Uranus, then passes 5.9º south of the Pleiades open cluster on the morning of 18 August. The last quarter Moon sits near to the planet on the morning of 19 August.

Mars reaches the mag. 0.0 threshold on 21 August. Through a telescope, the planet increases in apparent size from eight arcseconds on 1 August to nine arcseconds on 31 August.

Jupiter

  • Best time to see: 31 August, 02:00 UT
  • Altitude: 38º
  • Location: Cetus
  • Direction: South

Jupiter is improving as it approaches opposition in September 2022. By mid-August it reaches its highest point in the sky, due south in darkness. On 15 August, mag. –2.6 Jupiter is joined by an 87%-lit waning gibbous Moon. By the end of August, the planet brightens to mag. –2.7 in Cetus, right on the border with Pisces.

Uranus

  • Best time to see: 31 August, 03:00 UT
  • Altitude: 49º
  • Location: Aries
  • Direction: South-southeast

On the morning of 2 August, mag. +0.2 Mars is located 1.3º south of mag. +5.8 Uranus. By the end of August, now at mag. +5.7, Uranus is able to reach an altitude of 50º under truly dark skies.

Neptune

  • Best time to see: 31 August, 01:15 UT
  • Altitude: 34º
  • Location: Aquarius
  • Direction: South

Neptune slips across the border from Pisces into Aquarius on 18 August. At mag. +7.8, the planet is technically visible to the naked eye, but can be challenging. Reaching opposition next month, Neptune is very well placed for UK observation.

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This guide originally appeared in the August 2022 issue of BBC Sky at Night Magazine.

Authors

Pete Lawrence, astronomer and BBC The Sky at Night presenter.
Pete LawrenceAstronomer and presenter

Pete Lawrence is an experienced astronomer and astrophotographer, and a presenter on BBC's The Sky at Night.

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