We Earthlings are about eight times closer to the Sun than we are to Saturn at our closest point. Even though Saturn’s diameter is about nine times larger than ours, we need powerful telescopes to see anything more than a tiny dot of light. This is kind of a shame, given how many of us are so enamored with Saturn’s trademark rings.
Image that Saturn decided to break out of its orbit and pay Earth a visit. Also image that its intense gravitational pull wouldn’t completely gobble us up. What would Saturn look like if it came as close as Mars?
Nick at Yeti Dynamics has created a video using data from Voyager and Cassini that helps us answer this very question. From the distance of Mars, Saturn would be brighter than the full moon. Although it would appear quite a bit smaller in the night sky, Saturn reflects nearly four times more light than the moon. Even without a telescope, you would still be able to detect Saturn’s rings at this distance and could possibly even see Titan, its largest moon.
If Saturn kept traveling and became even closer to our planet, it would light up the dark side of the moon and even be close enough that Earth’s penumbral and umbral shadows would be visible on Saturn. If Saturn were to pass through over us (ignoring the planet-ending gravity that would come along with it) we could see the back of the planet that is not lit up from the Sun, giving a very different appearance to the rings.
Of course, Saturn is very comfortable in its orbit and it absolutely will not be swinging into our neck of the solar system. The video is very, very cool and you will want to go full screen on this one.
[Hat tip: Phil Plait, Slate]