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What's Up for April 2011?
What's Up for April? Saturn!
Hello and welcome. I'm Jane Houston Jones at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Saturn reaches opposition on April 4. This is when Saturn and the sun are on opposite sides of the sky, as seen from Earth.
At opposition the planet rises at sunset and sets at sunrise. It's also physically closest to the Earth in its orbit, so it appears larger and brighter. In fact, this month it's the only bright planet you'll see at night.
To find Saturn, look for the Big Dipper. Use the handle to make an arc to the star Arcturus. Then draw a spike to Spica. And you'll see Saturn, glowing a pale golden color, just above Spica.
If you haven't looked at Saturn through a telescope, you're in for a real treat.
Last year the rings appeared nearly edge-on. But this year you can actually see them as the ring tilt, from our point of view, approaches 10 per cent.
The Cassini spacecraft has been studying the Saturn system for almost seven years, sending back data and amazing images of the rings, icy moons, Saturn's magnetosphere, Titan and Saturn itself.
Last year amateur astronomers, turned citizen scientists, aimed their astrophotography equipment at Saturn and discovered a new storm.
The next day they sent their images to Cassini scientists. And Cassini's instruments studied the storm, too.
When you look at Saturn through a telescope, you may catch a glimpse of the storm's whitish cloud bands circling the planet.You'll see some of the larger moons and maybe even small, bright Enceladus.
But you won't be able to see the spewing geysers on Enceladus.
You can read all about Enceladus -- and other sources of water in our solar system --at solarsystem.nasa.gov/yss for Year of the Solar System.
And you can learn all about NASA's missions at www.nasa.gov
That's all for this month. I'm Jane Houston Jones.
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