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Uranus Shines at Its Brightest Tonight: Here's How to See It

Uranus reached opposition on Oct. 28 at 4 a.m. EDT (0800 GMT). On Oct. 27, Uranus was closest to Earth for this year — 1.75 billion miles (2.8 billion km). Its minimal distance from Earth will cause it to shine at a peak brightness of magnitude 5.7 and to appear slightly larger in telescopes. (Image credit: Starry Night (opens in new tab))

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.

Related: Photos of Uranus, the Tilted Giant Planet

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.

An image of the planet Uranus taken by NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1986.

An image of the planet Uranus taken by NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1986. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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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Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she tackles topics like spaceflight, diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc (opens in new tab). in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Her latest book, NASA Leadership Moments, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.