The gas-packed planet Uranus will be at its closest point to Earth Thursday night as it reaches opposition with the sun — meaning it will be bathed in light — and it should be visible to the naked eye. The ice giant’s blue-green color is unmistakable, and skywatchers should be able to see the planet throughout the rest of October.
Uranus — properly pronounced “YOOR-a-nus” — is the seventh planet from the sun and the third largest in the solar system. It floats in front of the constellation Pisces the Fishes, and it hasn’t been this high in the sky during opposition since February 1963.
There’s a new moon, so Uranus won’t face competition in the same area of the sky. It reaches its peak at 1 a.m. local time.
And though you should be able to see Uranus on your own, you still may want to use binoculars or a telescope for the best views, according to Astronomy magazine. (For more news like this, find your local Patch here. If you have an iPhone, click here to get the free Patch iPhone app.)
Uranus is named for the ancient Greek deity of the heavens, the earliest supreme god. It was discovered in 1781 by William Herschel as he scanned the sky with his telescope, though it previously had been seen and dismissed as a star. Voyager 2 is the only spacecraft to have visited the planet, on Jan. 24, 1986.
Uranus isn’t the only planet you’ll be able to see this month, according to NASA. Mars and Venus are also visible in the pre-dawn sky. Again, you may want to use binoculars because the sun will be approaching and could blot out the best views.
October is a banner month for skywatchers. The annual Orionid meteor shower also peaks in the predawn hours, starting Friday and continuing through Sunday. The meteors — some of the fastest and brightest produced by any showers this year — will continue to fly through Nov. 7 as Earth hits a stream of debris left behind by Halley’s Comet head-on.
You should be able to see at least 10 to 20 meteors an hour, and perhaps as many as 30. In some years, the shower delivers up to 80 meteors an hour.
Beth Dalbey (Patch National Staff)
Thanks for your feedback.
Originally published Oct 19, 2017.