Stunning Saturn shines solo and offers optimal viewing in April sky

Redlands, CA (March 30, 2011)— Described as the most beautiful planet, Saturn will be the sole planet visible in the April sky with its most stunning view beginning on Sunday, April 3.

According to Tyler Nordgren, a physics professor at the University of Redlands, “The best view of Saturn through a telescope each year is during what astronomers refer to as ‘Opposition,’ when the planet is opposite from the Sun relative to the Earth. This year, that planetary event takes place April 3.”

“During Opposition, the two planets are as close as they come to one another. Saturn will therefore be at its brightest in the sky, and observers with a small telescope or a good pair of binoculars with a magnification of at least 20x will see Saturn at its largest,” says Nordgren, who is the author of “Stars Above, Earth Below: A Guide to Astronomy in the National Parks.” “There are many smart-phone and computer apps that let you point your device at the sky and take the guess-work out of figuring out which bright light is Saturn, and which is a star or an airplane,” he notes.

Those using a small telescope or binoculars will also enjoy a view of Saturn’s dazzling rings and its largest moon, Titan, on which astronomers last month discovered the first evidence of methane rain falling out of its hazy atmosphere.

For more information about what is in the sky each week, consult Sky and Telescope’s website or Nordgren’s Redlands Sky View website for what is visible in the skies over Southern California.N

Nordgren has served as an astronomer at the U.S. Naval Observatory and Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, where he helped build a new type of telescope to directly observe the size and shape of such household stars as Pollux and Polaris (the North Star). He was part of a team of seven astronomers and artists who converted the “Spirit” and “Opportunity” Mars Rover camera calibration targets into functioning sundials and saw them land safely in Gusev Crater and Meridiani Planum.

This November will see a new sundial headed for Mars that Nordgren helped design, when NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover, “Curiosity,” launches from Florida on its way to the red planet. Nordgren is a member of the National Park Service Night Sky Team working to protect our park's dark skies and promote astronomy education.

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