Saturn is gradually climbing out of the Sun's glare in the pre-dawn sky, and by month's end it clears 20° in altitude before civil twilight starts. The ringed planet is both spectacular and subdued in the eyepiece. The rings, even if beginning to close up compared to the last few years, are just an amazing sight. The globe, however, is subtle with its pastel colors and gradually darkening bands as you move north to the darker NPR. For this reason most of us will admire the planet for a minute or two before moving on to another target of interest.
A unique aspect to Saturn is the shadow play of globe and rings. The most obvious is the shadow of the globe cast on the rings as they arc behind the planet. Prior to opposition it is seen on the preceding (western) limb, reaching maximum visibility at western quadrature (which will be May 16th this year). It gradually wanes until it is invisible at opposition and then emerges on the eastern limb, growing until reaching eastern quadrature.
|Saturn, a month after opposition, shadow on eastern limb|
|Animation showing the Cassini Gap Sunshine (CGS) visibility|
And, in full disclosure, seeing the CGS should be easier next spring as the rings close up even further. Sure, it's going to require a little effort to see if you can observe or capture this first opportunity at seeing the sunlight filtering through the Cassini Division on the cream-colored cloud tops below. It is guaranteed to test your planetary observing (or imaging) skills to snag it like Clyde. But then again, isn't testing your skills at the eyepiece a part of what makes this hobby an enduring passion for so many of us?