Astronomy midterm question: airplane swerves to avoid collision with Saturn?

Astronomy 210 Midterm 1, fall semester 2014
Cuesta College, San Luis Obispo, CA

According to Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) Aviation Investigation Report A11F0012,[*] Air Canada flight 878 swerved in order to avoid colliding with an unidentified bright light in the sky:
The Air Canada Boeing 767–333 was flying eastward. At 1:55 AM the first officer initially mistook an unidentified bright light in the sky for an aircraft.
Discuss why the unidentified object the first officer spotted could have been Saturn low above the eastern horizon, and how you know this. Support your answer using a diagram showing the positions of the sun, Saturn, Earth, and an observer on the airplane.

[*] tsb.gc.ca/eng/rapports-reports/aviation/2011/a11f0012/a11f0012.asp.

Solution and grading rubric:
  • p:
    Correct. Complete diagram (with the sun, Saturn, and observer on Earth), and discusses/demonstrates:
    1. observer at/or near 1:55 AM on Earth, and indicates the visible sky above the east to west horizon that can be seen by this observer;
    2. Saturn somewhere in an outer orbit such that it is visible above the eastern horizon of that observer.
  • r:
    Nearly correct (explanation weak, unclear or only nearly complete); includes extraneous/tangential information; or has minor errors. Diagram and/or explanation has minor errors. May generally have Saturn in its outer orbit that may instead be just below the eastern horizon for a 1:55 AM observer, or be high overhead for that observer, or be low on the western horizon for that observer (switching the east and west horizon labels).
  • t:
    Contains right ideas, but discussion is unclear/incomplete or contains major errors. At least has diagram clearly showing observer on Earth, and Saturn on an outer orbit.
  • v:
    Limited relevant discussion of supporting evidence of at least some merit, but in an inconsistent or unclear manner. Diagram and discussion problematic.
  • x:
    Implementation/application of ideas, but credit given for effort rather than merit. Misconceptions or non-relevant concepts.
  • y:
    Irrelevant discussion/effectively blank.
  • z:
Grading distribution:
Section 70158
Exam code: midterm01s4Tn
p: 22 students
r: 7 student
t: 6 students
v: 8 students
x: 2 students
y: 0 students
z: 0 students

A sample "p" response (from student 2174):

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