Here’s How To See Uranus And Mars Meet In The Sky This Week
“Although there are eight major planets in the Solar System, most of us never see Uranus or Neptune. Undiscovered until well after the invention of the telescope, both worlds cannot be reliably spotted with the naked eye. On rare occasion, however, one of those worlds will pass close to an easily-visible astronomical landmark, providing a perfect viewing opportunity. This Tuesday night, Uranus will pass within just 1° of Mars, enabling clear views with technology no more complex than binoculars.”
Although we know of the existence of many astronomical objects in our Solar System, most of us have never seen any planets other than the ones visible to our naked eye for ourselves. The easiest way to change that is to take advantage of astronomical conjunctions when they occur. When two planets pass close by one another in the sky, they can both clearly be seen at the same time through the right astronomical tool, like a pair of binoculars. This February 12/13, Mars and Uranus will meet in the night sky, passing within 1 degree of each other.
Here’s how to see Uranus, with extra tips for how to discern the planet your seeking from mere nearby, normal stars!
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.