Would it be possible to see the rings of Saturn with a telescope? How can one find out what years the rings are visible?
Absolutely! Even the smallest amateur telescope will clearly show the rings of Saturn, provided it is in focus.
Just like the Earth, Saturn's rotational axis is not perpendicular to the plane of its orbit. This means that, depending on the relative positions of Earth and Saturn in their orbits, we see the rings at different angles. The result is that we see Saturn's rings at different tilts in a 29 year cycle--opened down, edge-on, opened up, edge-on, and opened down again.
Right now, the viewing Saturn's rings is excellent. Any telescope will show the rings very much tilted 'up' as it is summer in Saturn's southern hemisphere. The apparent tilt of the rings will decrease until we see them edge-on in 2009-2010. Saturn can currently been seen high in the western sky before sunrise.
Brian Bearss, B.S., High School Physics Teacher, Yale, MI, USA
'The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than Man, which is the touchstone of the highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as in poetry.'