Catch Saturn at its biggest and brightest, and view its rings while you still can.
Right now, in Earth’s skies, Saturn appears at its biggest and brightest.
Just look to the southeastern skies (from the northern hemisphere), slightly east of bright Jupiter.
With Earth between the Sun and Saturn, it’s poised for spectacular viewing.
But the true star of Saturn is its main rings, now tilted for excellent views.
Every 15 years, the rings cycle from edge-on to maximum tilt and back again.
Although they reach over 70,000 kilometers in extent, they’re only 30 kilometers thick.
As a result, they briefly seemed to disappear in 1994, 2009, and will again in 2024.
NASA’s Cassini mission previously captured long shadows cast by nearly edge-on sunlight.
With no current Saturn orbiters, NASA’s Hubble provides our best views from afar.
The rings are 99.9% water ice, and are comparable in total mass to Saturn’s 7th largest moon: Mimas.
Saturn’s rings are quickly evaporating; they’ll be gone in merely 300 million years.
The evidence possibly points to their origin arising from a recently destroyed moon.
Back when trilobites dominated the Earth, Saturn may not have had any rings at all.
Until another Saturn-bound mission launches, telescopes like Hubble will provide our sharpest views.
Mostly Mute Monday tells an astronomical story in images, visuals, and no more than 200 words. Talk less; smile more.Ethan Siegel is the author of Beyond the Galaxy and Treknology. You can pre-order his third book, currently in development: the Encyclopaedia Cosmologica.