Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn can easily be seen with the unaided eye. So, all these planets were well known to ancient people. On March 13, 1781, Sir William Herschel using his small telescope discovered a new planet that would eventually be named Uranus. Even though Herschel used a telescope to discover this planet, Uranus is visible without astronomical instruments. It wasn’t noticed before Herschel because even at its brightest, Uranus is as dim as the dimmest stars that can be seen in a dark sky away from city lights. Uranus is at opposition on October 3, so if you wish to try your luck spotting this dim planet, now is a great time.
To see it without astronomical instruments you will need to be well away from city lights. Moonlight can also interfere so the best times to try this month will be from October 1 to October 11 and from October 26 to November 9. Plan to stay up late as Uranus will appear highest in the sky and easiest to see around midnight.
Uranus is within the boundaries of the constellation Pisces, a constellation marked by dim stars. This means there are no bright stars near Uranus to serve as guides. It may be easiest to begin by finding the four stars that mark the Great Square of Pegasus. To find them face south (with the Big Dipper behind you) and look almost straight overhead. Look below and to the left of these stars using the map below or astronomical software on a portable electronic device. To see the dimmest stars and the planet Uranus, allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness for about 15 to 20 minutes after looking at any source of white light. Covering a flashlight or an electronic device’s screen with red cellophane can allow your eyes to dark adapt while still allowing their use.
Uranus Finder Chart (PDF)