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Dublin: 3 °C Tuesday 18 February, 2020
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Look out your window soon to see Saturn (no telescope needed)

Want to see Saturn? You can spot it in the sky tonight, thanks to a rare celestial event.

A RARE CELESTIAL event is due to take place after sunset tonight – and you won’t even need a telescope to see it.

David Moore of Astronomy Ireland told TheJournal.ie that a spectacular celestial event known as a conjunction – where the Moon and the ringed-planet Saturn will be placed next to each other – will occur tonight.

Moore said that conjunctions like this are “quite rare” and Astronomy Ireland is urging everyone to go outside and use the Moon as a ‘signpost’ to find Saturn above the Moon. “We’re trying to get the whole country out watching.”

Pic: Astronomy Ireland

During the event, Saturn and the Moon will be placed right next to each other, so you can use the Moon as a signpost to point you to the ringed planet.

The event will also happen next month, but won’t happen again until next year. “It will happen a few times each year but in Ireland typically only one night in nine is clear,” pointed out Moore.

Saturn is about as bright as the top dozen stars, he said, and if you go out and look up the average person wouldn’t normally know which one is Saturn at a glance. However, it is plainly visible to the naked eye if you know where to look – and tonight the Moon will be showing the way.

“Anybody can do it – you don’t need a telescope,” said Moore. “You don’t even need good eyesight.”

Saturn

A Hubble Space Telescope close-up view of Saturn. The giant orange moon Titan – larger than the planet Mercury – can be seen at upper right. The white icy moons close to the ring plane are, from left, Enceladus, Dione, and Mimas. The dark band running across the face of the planet slightly above the rings is the shadow of the rings. The dark dots are the shadows cast by Enceladus and Dione. Pic: AP Photo/NASA

To put things into perspective: the Moon is just over 2,000 miles in diameter, while Saturn is about 75,000 miles in diameter. Saturn is about 746 million miles away from Earth at its closest distance, while the moon is about 239,000 miles away.

Saturn is the ringed planet and has over 60 moons of its own, one of which is bigger than our moon. The planet is freezing cold, with temperatures of about -200c, whereas the sunlit side of the Moon sees temperatures of 100C. Whereas the Moon would burn you, Saturn would freeze you.

“The simple fact of the matter is every atom of our body was created in this universe,” said Moore of the importance of astronomy. Members of Astronomy Ireland have gone on to study with people like Stephen Hawking and organisations like NASA.

Relative to population, Astronomy Ireland is the biggest astronomy organisation in the world. Perhaps Ireland’s love for astronomy shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise – in the 1800s, we had the biggest telescope in the world, which was located in Birr, Co Offaly, and attracted stargazers from around the world.

And then there is Newgrange, which was built 5,000 years ago to enable people to observe astronomical occurrences.

Astronomy Ireland is starting a new summer school tomorrow. For more details, visit www.astronomy.ie/summerschool

Read: NASA to take a photo of the Earth from Saturn>

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