© NASA/New Horizons

134340 Pluto at opposition

Dominic Ford, Editor
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The sky at

134340 Pluto will reach opposition, when it lies opposite to the Sun in the sky. Lying in the constellation Sagittarius, it will be visible for much of the night, reaching its highest point in the sky around midnight local time.

From San Diego, it will be visible between 21:51 and 03:58. It will become accessible around 21:51, when it rises to an altitude of 21° above your south-eastern horizon. It will reach its highest point in the sky at 00:54, 37° above your southern horizon. It will become inaccessible around 03:58 when it sinks below 21° above your south-western horizon.

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A close approach to the Earth

At around the same time that 134340 Pluto passes opposition, it also makes its closest approach to the Earth – termed its perigee – making it appear at its brightest.

This happens because when 134340 Pluto lies opposite to the Sun in the sky, the Earth passes between 134340 Pluto and the Sun. The solar system is lined up with 134340 Pluto and the Earth on the same side of the Sun, as shown by the configuration labelled perigee in the diagram below:


When a planet is at opposition, the solar system is aligned such that the planet lies on the same side of the Sun as the Earth. At this time, the planet makes its perigee, or closest approach to the Earth. Not drawn to scale.

In practice, however, 134340 Pluto orbits much further out in the solar system than the Earth – at an average distance from the Sun of 39.82 times that of the Earth, and so its brightness does not vary much as it cycles between opposition and solar conjunction.

Observing 134340 Pluto

At opposition, 134340 Pluto is visible for much of the night. When it lies opposite to the Sun in the sky, this means that it rises at around the time the Sun sets, and it sets at around the time the Sun rises. It reaches its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time.

But even when it is at its closest point to the Earth, 134340 Pluto is so distant from the Earth that it is not possible to distinguish it as more than a star-like point of light, even through a telescope.

A chart of the path of 134340 Pluto across the sky in 2012 can be found here, and a chart of its rising and setting times here.

At the moment of opposition, 134340 Pluto will lie at a distance of 31.27 AU, and reach a peak brightness of magnitude 14.6. Its celestial coordinates at the moment it passes opposition will be:

Object Right Ascension Declination Constellation Magnitude Angular Size
134340 Pluto 18h34m40s 19°19'S Sagittarius 14.6 0.0"

The coordinates above are given in J2000.0.

Over the weeks following its opposition, 134340 Pluto will reach its highest point in the sky four minutes earlier each night, gradually receding from the pre-dawn morning sky while remaining visible in the evening sky for a few months.

The sky on 29 June 2012
Sunrise
05:45
Sunset
20:01
Twilight ends
21:45
Twilight begins
04:01

10-day old moon
Waxing Gibbous

83%

10 days old

Planets
Rise Culm. Set
Mercury 07:48 14:44 21:40
Venus 03:53 10:43 17:33
Moon 15:54 21:21 02:39
Mars 12:05 18:11 00:17
Jupiter 03:27 10:25 17:22
Saturn 13:57 19:44 01:30
All times shown in PDT.

Source

The circumstances of this event were computed using the DE430 planetary ephemeris published by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

This event was automatically generated by searching the ephemeris for planetary alignments which are of interest to amateur astronomers, and the text above was generated based on an estimate of your location.

Related news

29 Jun 2012  –  134340 Pluto at opposition
01 Jul 2013  –  134340 Pluto at opposition
04 Jul 2014  –  134340 Pluto at opposition
06 Jul 2015  –  134340 Pluto at opposition

Image credit

© NASA/New Horizons

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