Here’s how you can find Uranus and Neptune

Now is a good time to observe Uranus and Neptune, two planets that can be seen with binoculars. Many amateur astronomers go through life without ever seeing these two remote ice giants because they shine dimly. Here’s how to find Uranus and Neptune.

A wide-angle view of the sky in September, 2018, shows Uranus, which has been ringed for clarity. Image credit: Paul Sutherland/Skymania

Uranus is, in theory, just bright enough to be spotted with the unaided eye when high up in a perfectly dark, moonless sky. It is much more readily seen with binoculars but you will need to know just where to look at to distinguish it from nearby stars.

Neptune, the furthest planet from the Sun, is considerably fainter but is again visible with binoculars or a small telescope.

If you have never seen Uranus or Neptune, now is a very good time to look because both are conveniently placed in the night sky, not far from the celestial equator.

You will find Uranus, at magnitude 5.7, shining in the constellation of Aries. It reaches opposition, when it lies in the opposite part of the sky to the Sun, on October 28th, 2019. Click on the following link for our star charts to help you find Uranus.

Related: Where to find Uranus in the night sky

Uranus photographed in 2010 by Damian Peach

Neptune, at magnitude 7.8, reaches opposition on September 10th, 2019, and may be found, with the aid of a star chart, in Aquarius. Click on the following link for our star charts to help you find Neptune.

Related: Where to find Neptune in the night sky

Don’t expect to see any details in the frozen clouds surrounding either planet because they show no more than the tiniest disks in standard amateur telescopes. Even the Hubble space telescope has been hard-pressed to record much detail anyway as the clouds are extremely bland compared to those of Jupiter or Saturn.

Neptune and moon Triton on 29 September, 2010, by Damian Peach

That fact makes all the more extraordinary the images shown here by noted British planetary imager Damian Peach. He made one of his regular trips to Barbados from where Uranus, Neptune and Jupiter are much higher in the sky and so less affected by atmospheric turbulence.

The pictures, taken with CCD equipment through his Celestron C14 Schmidt Cassegrain telescope appeare to show mottling in the clouds of both planets. I asked Damian, back in 2010, how sure he could be that these markings were genuine.

He told me: “The darker banding area on the lower part of the disk of Uranus is a real feature, though the smaller features are inconclusive. For these images only light sharpening was applied. I’ve since produced a sequence of Uranus.

“The features on Neptune came out very easily and probably represent coarsely resolved detail. I am hoping to obtain a sequence of images of this also in the near future. Such images have been possible due to the excellent conditions and high altitude of these planets from where I obtained the images.”

Since then, Damian has indeed taken several more splendid images of Uranus and Neptune. You can see them on his own website.

Related: More about Uranus

Related: More about Neptune


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