Saturn Disappears Behind the Full Flower Moon May 14 – Watch it Live

by Bob King on May 12, 2014

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Simulation of the moon closing in on Saturn just prior to occultation. Credit: Gianluca Masi using SkyX software

Simulation of the moon closing in on Saturn just prior to occultation. Click to go to the Virtual Telescope website where you’ll be able to watch the May 14 event live. Credit: Gianluca Masi using SkyX software

Funny thing. Skywatchers are often  just as excited to watch a celestial object disappear as we are to see it make an appearance. Early Wednesday morning (May 14) the Full Flower Moon will slip in front of  Saturn, covering it from view for about an hour for observers in Australia and New Zealand. If you don’t live where the dingoes roam, no worries. You can watch it online.And no matter where you are on the planet, the big moon will accompany the ringed planet across the sky this Tues. night-Weds. morning.


Moon-Saturn occultation from Perth, Australia Feb. 22, 2014 captured by Colin Legg

Occultations of stars happen swiftly. The moon’s limb meets the pinpoint star and bam! it’s gone in a flash. But Saturn is an extended object and the moon needs time to cover one end of the rings to the other. Planetary occultations afford the opportunity to remove yourself from planet Earth and watch a planet ‘set’ and ‘rise’ over the alien lunar landscape. Like seeing a Chesley Bonestell painting in the flesh.

Saturn and the moon tomorrow night just before midnight as viewed from the Midwestern U.S. View faces south-southeast. Stellarium

Saturn and the moon Tuesday night (May 13) just before midnight as viewed from the U.S. Stellarium

As the moon approaches Saturn, the planet first touches the lunar limb and then appears to ‘set’ as it’s covered by degrees. About an hour later, the planet ‘rises’ from the opposite limb. Planetary occultations are infrequent and always worth the effort to see.

Seen from the northern hemisphere and equatorial regions, the nearly full moon will appear several degrees to the right or west of Saturn tomorrow night (May 13). As the night deepens and the moon rolls westward, the two grow closer and closer. They’ll be only a degree apart (two full moon diameters) during Wednesday morning twilight seen from the West Coast. Northern hemisphere viewers will notice that the moon slides to the south of the planet overnight.

Map showing the region where the occultation of Saturn will be visible. Click to get the times of Saturn's disappearance and reappearance for individual cities. Times are given in UT or Universal Time. Add 9.5 hours for Australian Central Standard Time. Credit: IOTA

Map showing the region where the occultation of Saturn will be visible. Click to get times of Saturn’s disappearance and reappearance for individual cities. Times shown are UT or Universal Time. Add 9.5 hours for Australian Central Standard Time. Credit: IOTA

Skywatchers in Australia will see the moon cover Saturn during convenient early evening viewing hours May 14:

* 8:09  p.m. local time from Adelaide

* 9:05 p.m.  Brisbane

* 8:50 p.m.  Melbourne

* 8:53 p.m. Canberra

* 8:56 p.m. from Sydney (More times and a map – click HERE)

Before the occultation, Saturn will shine close to the moon’s upper right and might be tricky to see with the naked eye because of glare.

Binoculars will easily reveal the planet, but a telescope is the instrument of choice. Even a small scope magnifying at least 30x will show Saturn and its rings hovering above the bright edge of the moon. Stick around. About an hour later, Saturn will re-emerge along the moon’s lower left limb.

Saturn and its moons Tuesday night May 13 around 10 p.m. CDT. Titan's the brightest and easiest. Iapetus ranges from magnitude +10 when it's west of Saturn and we see its bright hemisphere to magnitude +12 when it's west of the planet as it will be this week. Created with Meridian software

Saturn and its moons Tuesday night May 13 around 10 p.m. CDT. Titan’s the brightest and easiest moon to see at magnitude +8.5. Iapetus ranges from magnitude +10 when it’s west of Saturn and we see its bright hemisphere to magnitude +12 when it’s east of the planet. Created with Meridian software

Meanwhile, back in the western hemisphere, we’ll watch the nearly full Flower Moon make a close pass of the planet. If you’ve had difficulty finding the celestial ring bearer, you’ll have no problem Tuesday night. Take a look at Saturn’s wonderful system of rings in your telescope – they’re tipped nearly wide open this year. For even more fun, see how many moons you can spot. And don’t forget, you can watch it online courtesy of astrophysicist Gianluca Masi. His Virtual Telescope website will broadcast the occultation live starting at 10:15 Universal Time May 14 (6:15 a.m. EDT, 5:15 CDT, 4:15 MDT and 3:15 PDT).

About 

I'm a long-time amateur astronomer and member of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO). My observing passions include everything from auroras to Z Cam stars. Every day the universe offers up something both beautiful and thought-provoking. I also write a daily astronomy blog called Astro Bob.

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