The Sky at Night

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As the Cassini/Huygens spacecraft sits expectantly on its Titan IV/Centaur rocket at Cape Canaveral, ready to be hurtled into space next week at the start of a seven-year odyssey, its unsuspecting target - the planet Saturn - stands in full view throughout the night. Saturn was at opposition yesterday. Its position in space was diametrically opposite the Sun's and it lay due south at midnight (GMT). The current distance to Saturn is about 780 million miles, more than eight times the distance to the Sun. Saturn will remain bright and well-placed for observation for some weeks to come. It lies in Pisces, an area of sky devoid of significantly bright stars. Saturn rises tonight at 6.20pm BST and sets in the morning at 6.10am. It will be due south at 11.45pm. Beware confusion with Jupiter, which is brighter, lower and further to the west.

Jacqueline Mitton