Discover Uranus in October

Robert Bigelow


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)

Happy hunting!

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7 thoughts on “Discover Uranus in October

  1. You can still use the finder chart from the article to locate Uranus in the night sky as its apparent position is only about 2 degrees southwest of where it appeared in October. Its current position is just below the arrowhead on the finder chart. From Salt Lake City, the planet Uranus will appear due south about 7:15 p.m. at an altitude of 52 degrees.

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  3. Greetings…I just purchased a telescope, my first ever. It dates back to the 60′s. JC Penny’s, D=60mm, F=700mm, coated lenses, made in Japan.
    Well, I went out last night, June 26, 1:30 am. Knowing only where to put the 20mm lens and how to focus…I settled in my chair and looked up to what little night sky I have. Locating the brightest light and with great anticipation I pointed the telescope and looked in the eyepiece and saw a distinctly blue sphere, solid. 2/3 the size of a pencil eraser. What do you think I may have seen? Thanx for your time,
    Regards, Tierre

  4. Tierre,
    If I knew your approximate location on Earth and the approximate azimuth and altitude of the object it would be easier to guess what it might be. If you were observing from northern Utah, here are three possibilities. At 1:30 a.m. on June 26, the brightest astronomical object in the sky was the Moon. However, it was only about 8 degrees above a flat horizon in the WSW, so depending on your location, it may have already set behind the mountains. The next brightest astronomical objects visible at that time were the stars Arcturus and Vega. At 1:30 a.m., Arcturus was almost due west about 34 degrees above the horizon and Vega was nearly straight overhead. An out of focus star like Vega could have had the appearance you describe. If the telescope was in focus, it was probably not an astronomical object.

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