Saturn takes a step in review: This week on the Storyteller's Night Sky

Apr 3, 2017

The north pole of Saturn forms an unusual hexagon, in this image from the Cassini Mission

In their regular, or direct motion, The naked-eye planets appear to move eastward against the background of stars. But before 10 days have passed April, four of the five naked-eye planets will be moving backward, or retrograde. This means they will appear to move west word against the background of stars.

The five naked-eye planets are Mercury, Venus,  Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. This means that they are visible without the use of a visual aid like a telescope or binoculars, and the furthest one from us that we can see this way is Saturn. Because of this, Saturn was regarded in all ancient traditions to be the planet that defined the boundaries of knowable space and time, and it was often referred to as the father of time and all creation.

Saturn is visible in the morning sky right now and begins its retrograde on Thursday, April 6. The ringed planet will stay in this apparent retrograde for the next five months.

If we imagine Saturn as Father Time, and he seems to start backward now, it's not that time is being reversed, but that the next five months offer a unique opportunity for a slow and thorough review of what has been.

We can measure Saturn's apparent retrograde motion along the ecliptic, which reveals that by the time Saturn turns direct again in late August, it will have moved all the way back to the position it occupied on New Year's Day, 2017. In this light we can imagine that Saturn is drawing our attention to a review of all the events that have happened between then and now.

Saturn begins its retrograde trek, moving from east to west, this Thursday, but not before gathering all the starlight from its current position, at the heart of the Milky Way galaxy. From here we can imagine that Saturn will send all of that starlight our way for insight as we review our daily affairs.