Want to See Uranus? A Full Moon Lights the Way

If you want to observe the frigid planet Uranus this week, look toward the full moon.

The Hunter's Moon rises tonight (Oct. 24) — in New York City it comes up at 6:30 p.m. local time — and will sit by Uranus, which reached a prime viewing location at opposition yesterday. This is a neat cosmic coincidence that makes finding Uranus easier, but to see Uranus in its full glory, you'll have to wait a few days.

A planet is easier to observe when it's at opposition. Since Uranus will appear directly opposite the sun in Earth's sky, Uranus will rise as the sun sets and will be visible all night. The gas giant planet will be above the horizon all night long in most locations. [The Moon: 10 Surprising Lunar Facts]

The moon will be in the constellation Cetus (the Whale) when it makes its close pass to Uranus, according to imagery from the app SkySafari.

This sky map shows where to find Uranus when the planet is at opposition on Oct. 23, 2018, at 8:33 p.m. EDT (0033 GMT on Oct. 22), as seen from New York City (41 degrees latitude).
(Image: © SkySafari App)

And why wait a few days after the full moon to check out Uranus? Well, the glare from the Hunter's Moon will make it tricky to see the planet, according to Space.com columnist Chris Vaughan from the app SkySafari. But do gaze up at Uranus! This is the brightest time to view the planet, but binoculars are recommended.

This composite image, created in 2004 with Keck Observatory telescope adaptive optics, shows Uranus' two hemispheres.
(Image: © Lawrence Sromovsky, University of Wisconsin-Madison/W.W. Keck Observatory)

The seventh planet from the sun is peculiar. For one, it rotates on its side. Earth more or less rotates like a basketball spinning on the finger of a Harlem Globetrotter, and Uranus spins like a bowling ball. Uranus is also much colder than Neptune, a planet much farther away from the sun. Some scientists postulate that an impact from a rock twice the size of Earth caused both circumstances.

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