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Ringing in summer: Saturn returning to Arizona skies in May and June

(NASA Photo)

One of the most amazing planets in the solar system is returning to our Arizona evening skies!

Saturn began this year as a morning planet that was low in the southeastern sky just before dawn and only visible to more advanced observers.

But now that we’re moving into summer the sixth planet from the Sun is becoming an easy object to view.

Saturn has been known since ancient times. No other major planet was discovered in our solar system until William Herschel discovered Uranus on March 13, 1781.

Saturn is a gas giant and one of the only major planets to have a distinct ring. Galileo had an idea the infamous rings were there in 1610, but they were officially discovered in 1655 by astronomer Christian Huygens.

The rings are a real mystery — how did they get there, what are they made of?

The ring system is thought to be as shallow as 30 feet in some places. We know they are made up of many ice and rock particles, so they were likely created by the the destruction of a large planet or asteroid that got too close to Saturn.

Saturn is a very large planet and, technically, the largest, if you measure it from the edge of each ring. It is about 21 Earth diameters in size.

However, if you only take the 74,000 miles of Saturn’s globe into account, Jupiter is really the king, as it’s 88,000 miles in diameter.

This year, the rings will be open very wide as viewed from Earth. The rings will reveal Saturn’s northern regions and open some 27 degrees.

Saturn is a grand sight! Look low in the southeastern skies at 11 p.m. The planet is easy to view with the naked eye, even though it will be some 840 million miles from Earth. Light from the planet takes 77 minutes to get here.

The view of Saturn will get even better, as the planet reaches opposition on the night of June 15. You might even get to view Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, in your telescope.

Saturn is a great offering on the menu for late May and June! Don’t miss it.

May skies offer something for everyone! Get you very own Dr. Sky May star chart.

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