This view of pale blue-green Uranus was recorded by NASA’s Voyager 2 on Jan 25, 1986, as the spacecraft left the planet behind. The thin crescent of Uranus is seen here between the spacecraft, the planet and the Sun. (Image provided)

This view of pale blue-green Uranus was recorded by NASA’s Voyager 2 on Jan 25, 1986, as the spacecraft left the planet behind. The thin crescent of Uranus is seen here between the spacecraft, the planet and the Sun. (Image provided)

Halloween will provide an astronomical treat this year as Uranus reaches opposition on Oct. 31. Opposition is the point in a planets orbit when it is on the opposite side of the Earth from the sun.

The same thing happens once a month with the moon. When the moon is full, which it will be on Oct. 31, it is at opposition.

The opposition of Uranus won’t be nearly as dramatic as the recent Mars opposition. Although you can see Uranus with the naked eye from a dark sky site. It looks just like a star.

In fact, Uranus wasn’t recognized as a planet until 1781 when William Herschel observed it telescopically. This was the first time in recorded history that we added to the list of planets in our solar system.

Uranus is the seventh planet from the sun and is very far away, even at opposition. Currently, Uranus is about 1.7 billion miles away from us. It takes light more than two and a half hours to travel that distance. If you were to drive a car there at 65 mph, it would take more than 3,000 years.

Uranus, like Saturn, Jupiter and Neptune, has rings. It also has lots of moons. We’ve discovered 27 so far, but I’m willing to bet there are more out there waiting to be found.

Uranus orbits the sun once every 84 years and rotates once every 17 hours. It is about four Earths wide and is almost 15 times more massive than the Earth.

I remember very clearly the first time I observed Uranus through a telescope. It left me with such a feeling of loneliness — a feeling I still get every time I observe this distant world. I was also struck by its beauty. It is a distinctive shade of green (some see it as blue) and so different from every other planet I have observed.

Uranus is lonely for another reason. Voyager 2, in 1986, is the only spacecraft ever to visit this unique planet.

Blazing Venus awaits you in the eastern sky before sunrise. Taking a quick look at our sister world is a great way to start your day. A cool video of the recent Venus flyby by the BepiColumbo spacecraft is available online.

Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, shines to the lower left of the constellation Orion in the early morning southern sky. 

This autumn is a great one for observing — a rare highlight of 2020. Rising in the east just before the sun sets is Mars, as big and bright as it will be until 2035. Coming up in the east shortly after Mars is Uranus. Uranus is in the constellation Aries, a relatively empty area of the sky.

Use an astronomy app or online star charts and binoculars to locate this lonely planet. Jupiter and Saturn are paired up in the southern sky after nightfall. Jupiter is the brighter of the two, with yellowish Saturn just to the left (east) of the king of planets. The waxing (getting bigger) crescent moon joins Saturn and Jupiter on Oct. 22, and the nearly full moon pairs with Mars on Oct. 29.

Dan Price is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador and informal educator. Join him at Josephine Sculpture Park in Frankfort on Oct. 24 for the first in-person Night Sky Tour since January. Views through the telescope will be shown on a monitor, allowing for socially distant observing. Attendance is limited and registration is required. Visit the JSP website for details. Have a question about astronomy or space science? Send an email to [email protected] and it might be featured in a future column.

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Source: https://www.state-journal.com/spectrum/bluegrass-skies-uranus-at-opposition/article_de6b706a-1411-11eb-8e43-e7daf895cbaf.html

Jupiter, Saturn, Moon

World news – US – Bluegrass Skies: Uranus at opposition

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