Saturn grows closer and brighter in the early morning sky this month on its way to opposition on May 23, 2015. The ringed planet lies just over 1º southwest of the last-quarter Moon on March 12 and 9º north of the bright red supergiant Antares. Look for the grouping above the southeastern horizon before dawn. Shining with a steady straw-colored glow, Saturn remains just northwest of the head of the constellation Scorpius for the next few months.
This will be an excellent year for observing and imaging Saturn. The planet’s rings are tilted about 24º from edge-on, nearly the maximum possible, which makes for a dramatic view. The steep tilt of the rings also makes the planet unusually bright. By the end of March, the planet’s disk grows to a diameter of 18” and the brightness increases to magnitude +0.3.
Saturn lies well south of the ecliptic so it will remain relatively low in the southern sky for observers in the mid-northern hemisphere. That makes it a little harder to get a good view through the thick and unsteady air along the horizon. But Slooh’s main telescopes in Tenerife and Chile, where Saturn is much farther above the horizon, offer superb opportunities for imaging the ringed planet during this observing season.