Skip to main content /SPACE /SPACE

Saturn ducks behind the moon

Saturn disappeared behind the moon in a similar display in November.
Saturn disappeared behind the moon in a similar display in November.  

By Richard Stenger

(CNN) -- The ringed planet vanished behind the quarter moon in a display specially tailored for much of North America.

Saturn has disappeared behind the moon numerous times in recent months, but for viewers in the Eastern United States, none of the spectacles compared with this evening affair.

Observing pitfalls in the region marred most of the earlier planetary eclipses, or occultations. The moon was too bright. The hour was too late. It happened during daylight hours.

But the viewing conditions were ideal on Wednesday. Saturn is almost at its brightest magnitude for the year. The moon just completed its quarter phase, not too bright for pleasant astronomical viewing.

For most European sky watchers, Saturn and the moon already dipped below the western horizon when the event took place.

The prime place to view the disappearing act was the Eastern United States, Eastern Canada and parts of the Caribbean, where it occurred after sunset.

In the United States, the occultation took place at night in the Northeast and at twilight in the Deep South and Midwest. It was still light out in the West, but that did not prevent some there from using cameras and telescopes to spot the celestial duo.

Other enthusiasts overcame more daunting, artificial obstacles.

"I temporarily abandoned my mother-in-law's birthday party, and rushed outside to a well-lit parking lot to capture (a snapshot). Not bad considering we were only five miles from downtown San Antonio," Becky Ramotowski of Texas told, which posted pictures of the planetary eclipse on the Internet.

After vanishing behind the darkened portion of the half-full moon, Saturn reappeared on the other side about an hour or so later.

A bonus treat for discerning sky watchers, particularly with binoculars, was the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters, flanking the moon-Saturn pair.

On Saturday, The moon will perform an encore performance, but with a different partner. This time, Jupiter will skirt behind the lunar disk in the predawn hours over Europe.


Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.


Back to the top