Look Up! It's a Great Week for Planet Viewing
Here's how to see Uranus and Neptune in the night sky.
If you are a space fanatic and looking up at the night sky is your favorite hobby, you probably know a thing or two about planets. Among those couple of things, you probably know that some are brighter than others, and spotting many of them in the sky is no hard feat (hello there, Venus!).
Other planets though, like Neptune and Uranus, are a little shier, and tend to hide out and not shine as brightly, making it harder for stargazers to observe them. This week, however, you are in luck.
With the moon basically taking a sabbatical (it is currently in its waxing crescent phase, and is only 12.1% visible as per Time and Date data), the night sky won't be bothered by much moon-caused light pollution, which will make for optimal conditions to spot dim-lit Uranus and Neptune. Don't get too excited, though—it still won't be super easy to see them.
How to spot the planet Uranus
Uranus has a magnitude of +5.7 when it comes to how bright it shines, and that makes it pretty dim, considering that the lower the number, the higher the brightness. As Space.com reports, Uranus' magnitude is at the limit of what's visible with the naked eye, which means that, in order to see it, you'll need a very dark sky.
This week, you'll find the planet best during late-evening hours, and it will be sitting in the constellation of Aries. Around midnight, the planet will appear roughly one-third of the way up from the eastern horizon, and you'll recognize it by its pale green color.
How to spot the planet Neptune
With Neptune, instead, you'll need an assist from outside. As Space.com points out, the planet has a magnitude of +7.8 (which makes it six times dimmer than Uranus), and even in optimal conditions, it is basically impossible to see it with the naked eye. Plus, it is even smaller than its dim cousin of a planet, which definitely doesn't help.
This, however, doesn't mean that you'll need top-of-the-line professional equipment to catch a glimpse of the planet. A good pair of binoculars will do the trick, granted that you can locate yourself in a position with a clear, dark sky.
This week, Neptune will be located in the constellation of Pisces, at roughly five degrees below the Circlet (a popular asterism in Pisces), almost at the same height as the star 20 Piscium. To recognize it, look for a small and blue-ish shiny object.
How to find the most optimal stargazing spot
As we mentioned, it is imperative that you find a place where the sky is pretty dark if you want a shot at observing these two planets. Your best bet, in this case, is to locate yourself in a dark site or in a place with very low light pollution.
And since you're here, here's a list of all the most important celestial events you can still catch this year. Happy stargazing!