Volume: 01, Issue: 20 12/31/2003 
Voyager 1 looked back at Saturn on November 16, 1980, four days after the spacecraft flew past the planet.
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Other Articles in This Issue:
Tune in for Live NASA Coverage of Mars and Comet Missions
Satellites Provide Clues to Help Solve the Ebola Enigma
A Year Of Sorrow, Recovery, Progress And Success for NASA
Chat Live: Lunar Prospector Mission
 

Ring in the New Year with Saturn

2004 will open with a spectacular astronomical sight when, at the stroke of midnight, Saturn should be visible directly overhead in the clear night sky. As the old calendars are replaced with new, the sixth planet from the sun will be only 748 million miles away, the closest it will be for about three decades, and it will be tilted so that we may have a perfect view of its trademark rings. All of this should make the planet one of the brightest objects in the sky New Year's Eve and a sight to behold with even a small telescope.

Named after the Roman equivalent of the Greek god of time, Saturn is the second largest planet in the Solar System. It is itself host to a virtual solar system with more than 30 moons and a ring system unparalleled among the nine planets. This beautiful ring system appears in most telescopes as several solid bands looping around the planet, but they are actually collections of water ice particles and the occasional rock. As the Earth and Saturn move through their orbits, our vantagepoint to view the rings changes over the years. Sometimes, because we are looking at the thin edge of the rings, they are barely visible. Tonight, however, we should have one of the best views of their full glory.

To enjoy this celestial way to celebrate the new year, all you have to do is step outside, preferably in a place with little light pollution, and look up. You will not need a telescope to see Saturn, which will appear as a bright yellow star directly above, but if you have a telescope, don't miss this chance to view the rings.

To learn more about Saturn's New Year's Eve appearance, visit:
http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2003/12dec_saturn.htm

To learn more about the current mission to Saturn and its moons, visit:
http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/index.cfm

To learn more about Saturn and its history, visit:
http://seds.lpl.arizona.edu/nineplanets/nineplanets/saturn.html

    
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