Its Name Means Sky

Uranus is at opposition tonight.

Uranus at opposition

The more exact time when it is opposite to the Sun is Oct. 12, 4 hours Universal Time, which be eastern American clocks is Oct. 12 0 (midnight), which is three and a half hours after the moment of the picture.

So if you were to wait on that long, you would see Uranus enter the shadow of the Earth (which, before I deleted it, my picture showed).

No, you would not, because Uranus at present lies about a degree south of the ecliptic, and because anyway Earth’s shadow is imperceptible at Uranus’s distance.

Uranus, shining at magnitude 6, is the planet which is just barely discernible to the naked eye if you know to look for it, and which therefore, though seen a few times and plotted on star maps as a star, was not discovered till 1781. It is dimmer than many stars not shown in the picture, so to search for it by telescope you need a more detailed map like this, slightly simplified from Astronomical Calendar 2015.

Uranus chart, partial


2 thoughts on “Its Name Means Sky”

  1. No matter how you pronounce it, it sounds nasty. However, quite thorough tracking, thank you Anthony. I’ve viewed it often through binox although my friend often teases me saying you only need to squat over a mirror to see it. Boo! And Neptune, I’ve seen only once in my heyday of telescoping years ago. I’m sorry I traded my refractor in for a reflector. I find it much easier to aim in on a target with the refractor.

  2. I’ve been following Uranus in binoculars since late Spring, at first before dawn, then late at night, and now after dark.

    With a good star chart it’s easy to find Uranus’ location. Once the great square of Pegasus is well above the horizon, start from the southeast corner, Gamma Pegasi aka Algenib. Drop about 10 degrees (two binocular fields) toward the southeast horizon until you see fourth magnitude Delta Piscium with a curving line of three sixth magnitude stars trailing off to the south. Delta is the western end of a 6-degree line of three stars, with fourth magnitude Epsilon in the middle and fifth magnitude Zeta at the east. Two degrees south of Epsilon there’s a little triangle of sixth magnitude stars (e, 73, and 77 on Guy’s chart above), and just south of Zeta there’s a single sixth magnitude star (88 on Guy’s chart).

    During this apparition Uranus, also sixth magnitude, has tracked north of the triangle, passed between Zeta and 88, and then turned retrograde back toward the triangle. Uranus’ movement relative to the background stars is quite apparent over just a few days, and now, in the middle of his annual retrograde, it’s a bit of a shock to see movement from one night to the next (when we have two clear nights in a row!).

    With a good telescope and a clear steady sky Uranus will appear as a tiny blue or blue-green disk. But I think I prefer the low power view through binoculars. With a field of view wide enough to show a recognizable pattern of background stars, Uranus really does look like a wandering star!

    And while it’s possible to find Neptune in binoculars in a reasonably dark sky, at eighth magnitude Neptune is washed out in urban light pollution and in any event really hard to distinguish from the background stars. Uranus is my favorite planet in binoculars — a slight challenge, but not too hard. And I enjoy thinking about William Herschel — “That star moved. Must be a comet. Hey, that’s no comet, it’s a planet!”

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