You can catch Uranus, one of the solar system's most distant planets, at its brightest tonight.
Uranus reached opposition today (Oct. 28) at 4 a.m. EDT (0800 GMT), which means it is almost directly opposite the sun from Earth's perspective. Not only is the planet's face fully illuminated by sunlight, but Uranus is also closer to Earth now than any other time of year.
The planet was at its closest point to Earth, called perigee, on Sunday (Oct. 27), according to the skywatching site EarthSky.org. For the time being, the planet will be visible all night and will rise in the east during sunset, according to EarthSky. Luckily, the moon just reached its new phase on Sunday and won't wash out the faint planet with a bright sky.
Uranus is visible in the constellation Aries between roughly 8 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. local time, according to In-the-Sky.org. You'll be best able to view it with binoculars or a telescope, but under excellent "seeing" conditions (dark sky, little atmospheric disturbance) it may be just visible with the naked eye. Uranus is shining at magnitude 5.7, at the threshold of naked-eye visibility.
To find the planet, look east for the Pleiades star cluster – a bright, V-shaped collection of stars in the constellation Taurus. Then you can use a mobile stargazing app or sky chart to navigate your way to Uranus. Make sure to bundle up against the cold if you are in more northern regions, and to give your eyes a few minutes to adjust to the darkness of night.
Although Uranus is a large gas giant, it appears so faint because the planet is far away from Earth. On average, Uranus is about 19 Earth-sun distances (or astronomical units) away from our planet, and 20 astronomical units from the sun. Due to its great distance from our planet, Uranus will move only slightly in the sky during the next few months and will rise 4 minutes earlier every day. The gas giant should be visible for several months.
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