Paths of Saturn and the asteroids Flora and Herculina

The minor planets Flora and Herculina move into Gemini in January and are well-placed for viewing near the ringed world Saturn.

S&T illustration.

In early 2005, Saturn is truly where the action is. The Cassini spacecraft, after orbiting the planet for the last six months, released its Huygens probe Christmas Day, 2004. On Friday, January 14th, Huygens descended through the opaque atmosphere of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, and landed on its surface.

Anyone with a small telescope can track Titan as it revolves around the ringed planet once every 16 days. You can find the configuration of Titan and several other moons by going to the article "Saturn's Moons". But for the close proximity of dazzling Saturn, Titan would be an easy target for binoculars.

While checking out Saturn and Titan in the next few weeks, you might be surprised to know that the minor planets 8 Flora and 532 Herculina are also in your sights (click on the illustration above to see the complete chart). Both interlopers are now at their brightest, having just passed opposition on practically the same night as Saturn (January 13): Flora on the 14th and Herculina on the 16th. These asteroids now rival Titan itself in brightness (magnitude 8.5), Flora lying just 1° northeast and Herculina 5° northeast of Saturn. With good binoculars, you should be able to spot Saturn, Flora, and Herculina in the same view!


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