The Moon cosies up to the morning planets.
The Saturn season is near it’s end with the planet now setting before 9 p.m., local daylight time. Fortunately, there’s lots of action in the morning sky, with four planets in a row above the eastern horizon. Brilliant Venus rises first, just after 3:20 a.m., and shines at a dazzling magnitude –4.5. The “morning star” has the eastern sky to itself until Mars joins it around 4:15 a.m. The red planet is relatively faint at the moment, shining at magnitude 1.8. Jupiter clears the eastern horizon at 4:30 a.m. and climbs to an altitude of 20 degrees by the time the sky starts to noticeably brighten. At magnitude –1.7, only Venus is brighter. Last up is Mercury, which rises after 6 a.m., a little less than 1½ hours before the Sun. Although it’s a tricky find this week, the 1.0-magnitude planet is on its way to its best morning apparition of 2015.
This morning the Moon, Venus and Regulus (the brightest star in Leo) form a luminous right-triangle in the eastern sky. The best view will be from the West Coast, where all three will just fit into the field of view of 10×50 binoculars. From Vancouver, British Columbia, the lunar disc will lie only 2½ degrees from Venus as twilight starts to brighten the sky.
Having shifted eastward since the previous morning, a thumbnail-thin crescent Moon now cosies up to Mars, and Jupiter. With Venus and Regulus nearby, this gathering is a lovely naked-eye scene for early rises.
This evening Uranus reaches opposition, which means it’s up all night and at its brightest. (See Weekend Stargazer below for more.)
New Moon occurs today at 8:06 p.m., EDT. Enjoy some quality, dark-sky time before the really cold weather sets in.
Uranus is at opposition on Sunday, which makes the October 9 – 11 weekend a particularly good one for getting acquainted with this distant world.
Uranus was the first planet discovered after the invention of the telescope. British astronomer William Herschel found the planet with his 6-inch reflector from his home in Bath, England, in March 1781. When he stumbled across Uranus, he initially mistook it for a comet. It was only after accumulating months of observations that an orbit could be calculated and the planet’s true nature became apparent.
Uranus is currently a 5.7-magnitude dot residing in southern Pisces. As the chart above shows, the planet is positioned inside a triangle formed by Zeta (ζ) and Epsilon (ε) Piscium, and a magnitude 5.5 star to the south. Even under light polluted skies, Uranus is within easy reach of binoculars, though you may have a little trouble distinguishing it from nearby stars. This is where a telescope comes in handy. Once you’ve located the planet’s field, bump up the magnification and look for a tiny, pale-green disc. That’s Uranus. It spans only 3.7 arc-seconds, so there’s not much to see — the fun lies in repeating Herschel’s discovery. Even with a much smaller telescope, you should have little trouble finding Uranus. After all, you have the considerable advantage of knowing exactly where to look, and what you’re looking for!
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