The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Saturn rings in the New Year
- Planet to come closest to Earth in nearly 30 years

Calcutta, Dec. 30: In a rare celestial drama, Saturn will come closest to Earth in almost 30 years to ring in 2004.

The two most talked about planets of the solar system will have the rendezvous after the midnight of December 31, setting pulse rates racing among astronomers.

The ringed planet, credited with mythical powers and associated with the fortunes of humans, will nudge close up to Earth around 2.30 am on January 1, and can be viewed clearly, along with its majestic rings, through a telescope.

According to senior astronomers at the Positional Astronomy Centre (PAC) in New Alipore here, Saturn will be 1,204.3 million km from Earth. On January 6, 1975, the distance was 1,203.6 million km.

“This phenomenon can only be seen from the northern hemisphere. Saturn will be visible throughout January before it fades gradually. We will set up two telescopes, of 11-inch and 6-inch diameters, on the roof of our office (99, Tollygunge Circular Road) on Wednesday night so that common people who are interested can take a look,” said D.. Talapatra, senior astronomer at the PAC.

Astronomers said Saturn has a rocky core 32,000 km in diameter while its layer of liquid metallic hydrogen is 12,000-km thick. The rings are composed of fragments of ice and ice-coated rock.

The director, research and academics, of Birla Planetarium, Debiprosad Duari, said at the point of time Saturn comes closest to Earth, the two will be in the same line with Sun. “The Earth will be between Saturn and Sun. When this happens, it is an excellent opportunity to view the planet in all its glory,” he said.

The Birla Planetarium will also install telescopes on its lawn in the first week of January. Through a telescope, Saturn will appear yellowish. It can be viewed better away from well-lit urban areas. Duari said Saturn will rise in the Calcutta sky at 4.59 pm on December 31 from the east-northeast direction, though it might not be immediately visible because of residual sunlight.

“Calcuttans will be able to see the planet around 6 pm near the eastern horizon and it will be exactly overhead at 11.40 pm on New Year’s Eve,” he added. He said when Saturn is closest to Earth, it will be on the western horizon at an elevation of around 60 degrees.

Astronomers rubbished links of Saturn to fate in the popular mind, but some astrologers are advising clients to wear on their fingers blue sapphire or topaz. “The impact of Saturn’s movement will vary from person to person according to their horoscopes. I have advised my clients to wear blue sapphire or topaz according to their planetary positions,” said Bhrigu Shastri, an astrologer.

A number of jewellery shops in Calcutta dealing in precious stones said they had recorded a rise in the sale of blue sapphire. “We do not know why, but the sale of blue sapphire has gone up in the last few weeks,” said

Shyam Sen, managing director of Senco Jewellers, Bowbazar branch.

However, astrologers associated with the publication of almanacs said the current movement of Saturn will have no impact on day-to-day life. “It does not matter how close Shani comes to Earth, it will not have any impact. We judge the impact of Saturn by judging the position of the planet in the 12th house of a person’s horoscope,” said Tarun Mitra, an astrologer associated with the publication of the Bisuddha Siddhanta almanac.

Astrologers refused comment on the fates of the key players in two crucial contests — the parliamentary polls in India and the presidential election in the US.

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