Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Best chance to spot Uranus is Thursday night

Uranus is not usually counted among the planets that are visible to the naked eye. However, it is just barely visible if you know where to look, have perfect vision, and go to a very dark area (such as the desert).  The ancients undoubtedly saw it but did not recognize it as a planet (from the Greek, "wandering star") because it is so dim and moves very slowly. 
With a good pair of binoculars, you can probably spot Uranus tomorrow, February 9th, even if you do not live in the middle of the desert, thanks to a great sign-post, the planet Venus, which will be passing by.  Tomorrow night, Venus will pass just half a degree (the width of the full Moon) below and to the left of Uranus.  

Here is a star chart showing what these two planets will look like through a pair of 7x50 binoculars.

The chart also shows some other "regular" stars in the same field of view with their magnitudes, (the numbers next to the objects in the chart) but Uranus is the only "star" visible right above Venus   Remember, though, that Venus looks about 10 times brighter than Uranus, so Uranus may still be hard to pick out.

The best time for viewing is soon after sunset when the sky is not quite dark so the glare from Venus will be less, but not so early that Uranus will be invisible against the blue sky.  If you wait too long, the two planets will be lower and harder to see through the haze of our atmosphere. Between 6 and 6:30PM ought to be ideal.

So get ready, and let me know if you succeed!

P.S. If you miss the planetary conjunction on Thursday, you could try again on Friday. By then Venus will have continued its quick movement through the skies, and will appear above and to the right of Uranus and a tiny bit farther away, as shown here:


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