Saturn is definitely one of the showpieces of the night sky. As anyone who has viewed the Ringed Planet through a telescope can attest, its beauty is almost hypnotizing.
The rings of Saturn can be seen even at low power through a small telescope, Although hundreds of individual rings have been detected by spacecraft, only three components can be observed from Earth—the A, B and C rings.
The A and B rings are easily seen in most telescopes and are separated by the Cassini Division, a gap as wide as the United States. Although it appears black as the surrounding sky of Saturn, it is actually a region of less densely packed particles. The inner C ring is not nearly as bright as the outer A and B rings and requires a 6-inch or larger telescope and an experienced eye to discern it.
During nights of good seeing, observers may be able to detect subtle colour variations in the bands upon the surface of Saturn, most often seen in the equatorial zone.
Another interesting feature to look for is the shadow of the planet cast upon the rings. Now that we are past opposition for 2006, the shadow will slowly being to increase in size and become more readily apparent.
Saturn images courtesy of Darryl Archer