The Position of Saturn in the Night Sky, 2014 to 2022 

by Martin J Powell

Having spent a period of just over three years in the constellation of Virgo, the Virgin, Saturn moved South-eastwards into Libra, the Balance in late August 2013. From this time through to the early 2020s the planet occupies the constellations of the Southern zodiac stretching through to Capricornus, the Sea Goat. The ringed planet last occupied this region of the zodiac between 1984 and 1993.

At the close of 2013 and throughout 2014, Saturn describes a Northward-facing loop in central Libra, positioned to the North-east of the constellation's second-brightest star Zuben Elgenubi ( Lib or Alpha Librae, apparent magnitude +2.8). In 2015 the planet describes another North-facing loop on the border with Scorpius, the Scorpion. Its Eastern stationary point is reached in mid-March 2015, positioned within the narrow Scorpian 'corridor' to the NNW of Antares ( Sco or Alpha Scorpii, mag. ~+1.0). The planet retrogrades (moves East to West) back into Libra in mid-May, reaching its Western stationary point in early August 2015. It then regains direct motion (West to East) and re-enters Scorpius in mid-October 2015. The following month the planet approaches to within 0°.02 (1.5 arcminutes, where 1' = 1/60th of a degree) of the interesting quadruple star named Jabbah ( Sco or Nu Scorpii, mag. +4.0) in Northern Scorpius.

Saturn enters Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer, in late November 2015 where it describes a Northward-facing, flattened loop to the South-west of the star Sabik ( Oph or Eta Ophiuchi, mag. +2.5). A 'hybrid' formation (half loop, half zig-zag) is described in South-eastern Ophiuchus during 2017, with a three-month excursion into Sagittarius, the Archer. The planet reaches its Eastern stationary point in early April, in Western Sagittarius, a short distance North-west of the Lagoon Nebula (M8 or NGC 6523). Saturn retrogrades into Ophiuchus in mid-May 2017, reaching its Western stationary point North of the star Theta Ophiuchi ( Oph, mag. +3.2) in late August 2017. After resuming direct motion the planet enters Sagittarius for the longer term in mid-November of that year. During 2018 the planet describes a Northward-facing hybrid formation to the North of the constellation's well-known Teapot asterism, attaining its most Southerly declination (angle relative to the celestial equator) of -22° 46' 49" (-22°.78 in decimal form) in late October 2018. Hereafter Saturn begins a slow Northward ascent through the zodiac, which will culminate when it is positioned in Gemini in 2033.

Whilst in the Eastern half of Sagittarius, Saturn describes two classic 'zig-zag' formations. The first takes place during 2019, when the planet is situated to the North-east of the Archer's second-brightest star Nunki ( Sgr or Sigma Sagittarii, mag. +2.0). In early February of that year, Saturn passes just 0°.4 (24') South of the star Omicron Sagittarii ( Sgr, mag. +3.7). In mid-February 2020, Saturn crosses the ecliptic in a Southward direction, the second 'zig-zag' formation being described immediately afterwards, on the border between Sagittarius and Capricornus. The planet is positioned a little to the North of the eighth-magnitude globular cluster M75 (NGC 6864) at this time. Saturn reaches its Eastern stationary point in Western Capricornus in mid-May 2020 before retrograding back into Sagittarius in early July, where the planet reaches its Western stationary point in late September.

Having now moved to the South of the ecliptic, Saturn's loops switch from Northward-facing to Southward-facing. After spending some three years in Sagittarius, Saturn enters Capricornus for the longer term in mid-December 2020, where its Northward ascent of the zodiac becomes more evident. The planet describes two Southward-facing hybrid formations here, one in 2021 and another in 2022. In May 2021 Saturn reaches its Eastern stationary point just 0°.6 (37') West of the fourth-magnitude star  Cap (Theta Capricornus). January 2022 sees the planet pass just 0°.25 (15') South of the same star. The planet leaves Capricornus and enters Aquarius, the Water Carrier, in February 2023 and exits the star chart shortly thereafter.

Saturn reaches opposition to the Sun (when it is closest to the Earth and brightest in the sky for the year) every 378 days on average, i.e. about 13 days later in each successive year. Around opposition, Saturn is due South at local midnight in the Northern hemisphere (due North at local midnight in the Southern hemisphere). Details of the nine Saturnian oppositions covered by the above star map are given in the table below. Note how the planet's appearance changes slightly at each opposition, the ring system displaying varying tilt angles to the Earth as it orbits the Sun (for more details, see the diagram of Saturn's orbit). Like the other Solar System planets, Saturn's apparent size (its angular diameter as seen from the Earth) varies slightly at each opposition because its orbit is slightly elliptical.


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