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Sunrise, sunset, Saturn topics of planetarium show

Saturn puts on a show for stargazers this month, says Pat Hanrahan, director of the Planetarium Sky Theater at Mt. Hood Community College, 26000 S.E. Stark St.

“Saturn reached opposition on May 10 and this means that it is now visible from sunset all the way through sunrise and reaches its maximum altitude in the middle of the night,” Hanrahan says.

“This is when Earth is closest to Saturn,” he adds. “This means that Saturn can be seen almost any time of the night near opposition.”

Saturn doesn’t seem to change its apparent size very much over a year as it’s about 10 times as far from the sun as Earth is, he says. by: CONTRIBUTED ILLUSTRATION - This map shows where Saturn will be at 10 p.m. Thursday, June 5.

Hanrahan will talk about Saturn at the planetarium’s final monthly show for the 2013-14 season, called “Saturn & The Summer Sky” on Tuesday, June 3, at 6, 7:15 and 8:30 p.m.

“Saturn is one of the most interesting planets to view from an amateur telescope, and its rings are now tilted near their maximum opening to our line of sight,” he says. “It sits as the brightest object in the constellation Libra and should not be difficult to find in the night sky.”

Saturn’s most famous features can be seen through most telescopes, he adds.

“That’s one nice thing about Saturn ... you don’t need a fancy expensive telescope to see the rings,” he says. “Further, you don’t need to go out to some remote area to see Saturn well. In fact, you could do fine with a telescope in Pioneer Square in downtown Portland if you wanted.”

He adds that binoculars “do not work well for seeing the rings. However, if you have really steady hands and a good eye, you can begin to see them in binoculars.”

Circles of wonder

Why does Saturn have rings — and why doesn’t Earth?

“While all the gas giant planets — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune — have rings, it’s only Saturn that has obvious rings,” Hanrahan says, noting Saturn’s rings are made out of ice and “this ice probably came from an icy moon that came in too close to Saturn with tidal forces tearing that moon apart, leaving debris that formed its rings.”

While the outer planets of our solar system may have moons that are close to their respective surfaces, Earth’s lone moon doesn’t come close enough to our planet to be torn apart like Saturn’s moon probably was, he adds.

In addition to Saturn, Hanrahan will address other objects in the summer night sky.

“Some of my favorite objects can be found in the constellations Sagittarius and Cygnus the Swan,” he says. “Sagittarius has the Lagoon Nebula, the Sagittarius Star Cloud, the Trifid Nebula and a number of other objects nearby. Cygnus has the Veil Nebula, which may be faint but is fascinating to explore.”

The June 3 shows are the culmination of a transitional year for the planetarium, which installed a new state-of-the-art projection system last year.

“The new system has worked very well and has a much better ‘Wow!’ factor as compared to the old,” Hanrahan says. “One of the best things that I like about the new system is that I can often show school children examples of things in the sky that are relevant to their questions. Plus, I can develop shows where I can zoom into very interesting objects. I feel that it really adds to the experience if you can see exactly where to look in the sky where some of those amazing Hubble pictures were derived.”

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