© NASA/Cassini

Saturn enters retrograde motion

Dominic Ford, Editor
From the Outer Planets feed

Objects: Saturn
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Saturn will enter retrograde motion, halting its usual eastward movement through the constellations, and turning to move westwards instead. This reversal of direction is a phenomenon that all the solar system's outer planets periodically undergo, a few months before they reach opposition.

The retrograde motion is caused by the Earth's own motion around the Sun. As the Earth circles the Sun, our perspective changes, and this causes the apparent positions of objects to move from side-to-side in the sky with a one-year period. This nodding motion is super-imposed on the planet's long-term eastward motion through the constellations.

The diagram below illustrates this. The grey dashed arrow shows the Earth's sight-line to the planet, and the diagram on the right shows the planet's apparently movement across the sky as seen from the Earth:

The retrograde motion of a planet in the outer solar system. Not drawn to scale.

1969–1970 apparition of Saturn

21 Aug 1969 – Saturn enters retrograde motion
28 Oct 1969 – Saturn at opposition
03 Jan 1970 – Saturn ends retrograde motion

Observing Saturn

Saturn enters retrograde motion as its 1969–1970 apparition gets underway, although it has already been visible for some weeks in the pre-dawn sky.

Its celestial coordinates as it enters retrograde motion will be:

Object Right Ascension Declination Constellation Magnitude Angular Size
Saturn 02h31m10s 12°11'N Aries 0.0 18.7"

The coordinates above are given in J2000.0.

From Ashburn , it will be visible in the morning sky, becoming accessible around 23:54, when it reaches an altitude of 9° above your eastern horizon. It will then reach its highest point in the sky at 05:42, 63° above your southern horizon. It will be lost to dawn twilight around 05:56, 62° above your southern horizon.

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Over the following weeks, Saturn will reach its highest point in the sky four minutes earlier each night, gradually becoming visible in the evening sky, as well as the pre-dawn sky, as it approaches opposition.

The sky on 07 December 2021
Twilight ends
Twilight begins

3-day old moon
Waxing Crescent


3 days old

Rise Culm. Set
Mercury 07:45 12:21 16:58
Venus 10:06 14:46 19:27
Moon 10:54 15:38 20:30
Mars 05:41 10:39 15:37
Jupiter 11:39 16:56 22:14
Saturn 10:51 15:50 20:50
All times shown in EST.


The circumstances of this event were computed using the DE430 planetary ephemeris published by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

This event was automatically generated by searching the ephemeris for planetary alignments which are of interest to amateur astronomers, and the text above was generated based on an estimate of your location.

Related news

15 Oct 1968  –  Saturn at opposition
28 Oct 1969  –  Saturn at opposition
11 Nov 1970  –  Saturn at opposition
25 Nov 1971  –  Saturn at opposition

Image credit

© NASA/Cassini






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