To celebrate Saturn reaching opposition in the sky this weekend, the animator known as yeti dynamics posted video of what it would look like if the ringed planet had a close encounter with Earth.
For most of May, the Earth will be directly between Saturn and the Sun, meaning that Saturn will rise almost immediately after the Sun sets and will be visible all night. Directions for finding the ringed planet — with or without a telescope — can be found at EarthSky.
Even though Saturn is currently as close to the Earth as it will be all year, the animator at yeti dynamics was interested in discovering what it would look like if the planet was much closer — if it were to move between the Earth and the Moon.
Phil Plait at Bad Astronomernoted that that can’t possibly happen — “it’s orbit is huge and (very nearly) circular, so it’ll never get any closer than about a billion kilometers. That’s a tremendous distance. Still, it’s fun to wonder what it would look like if, for some reason, Saturn somehow took a left turn and headed for Earth.”
The yeti dynamics animator created a photorealistic video of what that would look like using data from Voyager and Cassini, and the results are, as Plait noted, “stunning.”
The consequences of an actual close encounter with Saturn would, however, be far less appealing. Instead of “reading by Saturnlight,” as Plait would like, “the Earth would never survive this encounter with Saturn. A large object like Earth getting too close to a much larger one like Saturn is a recipe for doom.”
“That would be a pretty amazing sight, too,” Plait conceded. “But there’d be nobody left to see it.”
Scott Eric Kaufman is the proprietor of the AV Club's Internet Film School and, in addition to Raw Story, also writes for Lawyers, Guns & Money. He earned a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of California, Irvine in 2008.
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