© 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.

1996 apparition of Saturn

18 Jul 1996 – Saturn enters retrograde motion
26 Sep 1996 – Saturn at opposition
03 Dec 1996 – Saturn ends retrograde motion

Observing Saturn

Saturn enters retrograde motion as its 1996 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 00h31m00s 0°44'N Cetus 0.6 18.2"

The coordinates above are given in J2000.0.

From Ashburn , it will be visible in the dawn sky, rising at 23:49 (EST) and reaching an altitude of 50° above the southern horizon before fading from view as dawn breaks around 05:19.

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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 17 January 2022
Twilight ends
Twilight begins

15-day old moon
Waxing Gibbous


15 days old

Rise Culm. Set
Mercury 07:56 13:05 18:13
Venus 06:10 11:17 16:25
Moon 16:48 00:32 08:13
Mars 05:18 09:58 14:39
Jupiter 09:18 14:44 20:11
Saturn 08:22 13:26 18:29
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

11 Feb 1996  –  Saturn ring plane crossing
26 Sep 1996  –  Saturn at opposition
10 Oct 1997  –  Saturn at opposition
23 Oct 1998  –  Saturn at opposition

Image credit

© NASA/Cassini






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