This month Saturn is closer to the Earth than it will be all year, making it appear particularly bright in the night sky, Slate reports. But even at its closest, the ringed planet is 830 million miles away, rendering it just a dot to the unaided eye.
How would the giant gas planet, nine times wider than our own, appear to us if it were somehow closer to us than the moon?
YouTube user yeti dynamics has the answer with an intriguing video, using data collected from NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft, as well was the more recent NASA Cassini spacecraft, which have approached the planet since the 1980s.
He found that by the time Saturn gets as close to Earth as Mars is, it is brighter in the night sky than the Moon because it reflects more light, as you can see in the screenshot below:
When it reaches about 34 million miles from our planet, people on the ground would be able to see the elongated shape of Saturn’s rings and some of its moons with the unaided eye. However, our Moon would still look larger.
Within only 600,000 miles to go Saturn would take up most of the sky, and awe-struck people on the ground would be able to see the Earth’s shadow pass over its planet and rings, as you can see in this screenshot:
Saturn whips by the Earth on its way into the Sun. Once it’s passed us, the planet’s back side will be between us and the sun, eclipsing it and revealing its outermost rings that would previously have been invisible due to Saturn’s glare. The outer rings will gradually become more visible as the eclipse unfolds, as you can see in this screenshot:
Below, you can see what all of Saturn’s rings will look like when the eclipse is complete.
Of course, we wouldn’t actually survive this visibly-pleasing scenario. If it happened, the Earth would be destroyed by Saturn’s gravity, as Phil Plait points out in his Bad Astronomer blog at Slate.
In reality, Saturn remains 746 million miles away from the Earth when they are closest, or a billion miles apart when the two planets are at their furthest apart.
Watch the full video below.
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