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Stars in Sinai, Sharm el Sheikh, Dahab

View showing shadow of Saturn's rings projected onto the planet with Titan appearing from behind and Tethys streaking in front

As shifting positions between Earth and Saturn bring our planet in line with the plane of Saturn’s ring, they are seen edge on, which happened in 2009. This is the best time to view the moons when they appear strung out like a string of pearls and can be easily located.

The brightest of Saturn’s moons is Titan which appears to approach the planet and separate every 16 days as it orbits the planet, reaching its greatest elongation about five ring diameters away.

Titan is one of the biggest moons in the solar system, second only to Jupiter’s moon, Ganymede. It is bigger than the planet Mercury and holds an atmosphere of methane gas which can precipitate as rain, giving rise to seas and lakes and a landscape of mountains, rivers and shorelines. It’s not quite paradise since temperatures never rise above the glacial, but methane provides a source of organic chemicals which could seed life in this outpost of the solar system.

Towards Saturn from Titan, you may also pick out the dimmer moons: Rhea, Dione, Tethys and finally Enceladus.

By going to the website www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/objects/planets and navigating to Saturn’s Moons Javascript Utility, you can watch a simulation of the waltz of these moons around Saturn.

The most difficult to see is Enceladus but it’s another gem of the solar system, an icy place of violence and spectacle. Its proximity to Saturn means it’s subject to gravitational pummelling which causes icy material to erupt out in giant plumes that trail behind the moon forming the outermost of Saturn’s rings, seen for the first time by the planetary probe Cassini. Who knows, maybe life also lurks on this enigmatic moon?

This blog first appeared as a story in the Cairo BCA Magazine for March 2009 to promote star gazing in Sinai with Yallajabaleya