Get Your Telescopes Ready: Neptune Is Coming

Get Your Telescopes Ready: Neptune Is Coming

“Because of the periodic motions of the planets, Mars and Neptune had a close encounter just two years ago, but this year’s conjunction blows that one away in terms of proximity and viewing conditions. With a new Moon on December 7th, clear skies and the Geminid meteor shower growing towards its December 13th peak, it’s a great night to be outside for stargazing. Bring even a small telescope or a pair of binoculars with you, though, and the spectacular, blue sight of Neptune will be your reward.

For a few minutes of effort, you’ll see what no human prior to Galileo ever saw, except unlike Galileo, you won’t mistakenly record that you observed a fixed star. Instead, you’ll know you’re viewing the 8th and outermost planet in our Solar System, a planet that nobody knew existed a mere two centuries ago. This December 7th, we all have the opportunity to become astronomers. Make your chance count.”

On December 7th, 2018, a spectacular astronomical event will occur, but you won’t notice without binoculars or a telescope. Mars and Neptune will achieve an extremely close conjunction, separated by a mere 0.03 degrees at the moment of their closest approach. If you look at easily-identifiable Mars at that moment through binoculars or a telescope, you might see a faint, blue dot that appears to be a satellite companion of Mars. Only it’s not; it’s brilliant, blue Neptune, approximately 30 times as far away as our red neighbor! Galileo was the first to see Neptune, but he misidentified it for a fixed star. More than 200 years later, it remained undiscovered. But on December 7th, some 400 years later, you’ll have the opportunity of a lifetime that most humans will never get: the chance to see Neptune for yourself.

Next month, we’ll all have the chance to be astronomers, and to see a spectacular sight that generations of people never got. Make it count.