Science Snippet:

2022 Astronomy Challenge Project 8

The planet Saturn
Like Earth, Saturn has aurora displays. Notice the circle of light at Saturn’s pole. This picture was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Photo credit: NASA, ESA, J. Clarke (Boston University), and Z. Levay (STScI)

(For anyone who did not start the astronomy challenge at the beginning of the year, it’s actually still possible to find all the objects. If you missed the May challenge, start with trying to find Arcturus and Spica. You can find details on how to find them here. Spica by now will be quite low. Antares from the last challenge is still very well placed. To complete the challenge this year, you would also need to find Venus which is low in the dawn sky. Half an hour before sunrise, it should be the only object visible in the eastern sky. The other objects from the challenge can be seen better at other times later this year.)

This month, we’ll try to find another planet. Saturn comes to opposition this year on August 14. A planet is at opposition when it rises just as the sun sets. August is also a good month for meteors. The Perseid meteor shower peaks on the morning of August 12. The Perseid meteor shower is one of the best annual meteor showers. This year it might not be so good as there will be a bright moon in the sky. On August 15 the moon will be in conjunction with Jupiter. This is best seen in the early morning sky. Jupiter may not look that bright because of the extremely bright moon right beside it.

Saturn should be easily visible in the southeastern sky about an hour and a half after sunset. It looks like a slightly yellow star and should be brighter than any stars right around it. Especially in the early parts of the month, it will be quite low. As the month progresses, it will slowly rise in the evening sky. About an hour before sunrise, Saturn will be relatively high in the southwestern sky. As the month progresses, Saturn will become easier to find in the evening sky but harder to find in the morning. By the end of August, it won’t really be visible in the early mornings anymore. In the Southern Hemisphere, Saturn will appear much higher in the sky. Southern Hemisphere observers can find it in the eastern sky in the evening and the western sky in the morning.

Saturn is the second largest planet in the solar system. The second-largest planet has the second-largest moon in the solar system. Saturn’s moon Titan is larger than the planet Mercury and about half again as large as our moon. Titan is actually much more like Earth than Saturn itself. Titan has a climate with wind and rain. Liquids create rivers, lakes, and seas. The big difference is that the liquid on Titan is not water but instead methane. Titan’s surface temperature is about -290 °F which makes it possible for methane to act similarly to water. Titan is only one of Saturn’s 82 moons. Seven of these moons are round like our moon while the others are small strange looking rocks. Even smaller than the smallest of the moons are billions of tiny particles. These particles are actually more impressive than any of Saturn’s moons because there are so many of them. They form a flattened disk of debris around the planet. These are the famous rings of Saturn. Saturn is one of the gas giant planets. This means that it is made mostly of hydrogen and helium like the sun. And of course, it’s a giant. Saturn is nine times as large as Earth. Even with its large size, Saturn is not at all dense. In fact it could float in water. Most of Saturn’s gases are not in the “gas” stage. Inside the planet, intense pressures convert hydrogen and helium into metals. Saturn probably has a small rocky core.

To see more about the 2022 Astronomy Challenge, click here.