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This Week's Night Vision: Uranus and Neptune

Posted November 28, 2018 - by Robert Bigelow

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Five planets in our solar system are easily visible in the night sky with the unaided eye. Currently, Mars and Saturn are easy to spot in the evening sky. Venus can be seen in the eastern sky a couple of hours before sunrise. Even though the Sun’s glare hides Jupiter and Mercury now, they will both be visible in the morning twilight by mid-December.

Because all these planets are relatively bright, it is not difficult for sky watchers on Earth to notice their apparent motion among the stars from night to night. Therefore, all these planets have been known since antiquity.

Uranus, as seen by the spacecraft Voyager 2 in 1986.
This is an image of the planet Uranus taken by the spacecraft Voyager 2 in 1986. (Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)


In contrast, the two outermost planets, Uranus and Neptune are very far from the Sun. They reflect so little light to Earth that their existence was not revealed until after the invention of the telescope. Uranus, which orbits twice as far from the Sun as Saturn was discovered on March 13, 1781. Neptune was discovered sixty five years later in 1846.

Neptune, as seen by the spacecraft Voyager 2 in 1989.
This contrast enhanced color picture of Neptune was acquired by Voyager 2 on August 14, 1989. Image Credit: NASA/JPL)


These distant worlds have only been visited by one spacecraft, Voyager 2. Voyager 2’s flybys in 1986 and 1989 gave us our first close up look at these worlds. The Hubble Space Telescope, launched in 1990, has allowed us to observe changes on these planets since Voyager 2’s visits.

Take a tour of the night sky and learn more about these two outer planets during Night Vision on Saturday, December 1st, 2018, at 6:45 PM. Tickets are just $2.00 per person for the public, and free for members of Clark Planetarium. 

Get your tickets now.