© NASA/Voyager 2

Uranus at opposition

Dominic Ford, Editor
From the Outer Planets feed

Objects: Uranus
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The sky at

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

From Seattle, it will be visible between 20:02 and 05:49. It will become accessible around 20:02, when it rises to an altitude of 21° above your eastern horizon. It will reach its highest point in the sky at 00:56, 56° above your southern horizon. It will become inaccessible around 05:49 when it sinks below 21° above your western horizon.

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2020–2021 apparition of Uranus

15 Aug 2020 – Uranus enters retrograde motion
31 Oct 2020 – Uranus at opposition
14 Jan 2021 – Uranus ends retrograde motion

A close approach to the Earth

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

This happens because when Uranus lies opposite to the Sun in the sky, the Earth passes between Uranus and the Sun. The solar system is lined up with Uranus 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, Uranus orbits much further out in the solar system than the Earth – at an average distance from the Sun of 19.19 times that of the Earth, and so its angular size does not vary much as it cycles between opposition and solar conjunction.

Observing Uranus

At opposition, Uranus 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, it is not possible to distinguish it as more than a star-like point of light without the aid of a telescope.

A chart of the path of Uranus across the sky in 2020 can be found here, and a chart of its rising and setting times here.

At the moment of opposition, Uranus will lie at a distance of 18.79 AU, and its disk will measure 3.8 arcsec in diameter, shining at magnitude 5.7. Its celestial coordinates at the moment it passes opposition will be:

Object Right Ascension Declination Constellation Magnitude Angular Size
Uranus 02h24m40s 13°51'N Aries 5.7 3.8"

The coordinates above are given in J2000.0.

Over the weeks following its opposition, Uranus 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 31 October 2020
Sunrise
07:51
Sunset
17:55
Twilight ends
19:39
Twilight begins
06:07

15-day old moon
Waning Gibbous

99%

15 days old

Planets
Rise Culm. Set
Mercury 06:47 12:09 17:32
Venus 04:44 10:46 16:49
Moon 17:55 00:46 07:45
Mars 17:06 23:30 04:55
Jupiter 13:41 17:58 22:15
Saturn 13:55 18:18 22:41
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

31 Oct 2020  –  Uranus at opposition
04 Nov 2021  –  Uranus at opposition
09 Nov 2022  –  Uranus at opposition
13 Nov 2023  –  Uranus at opposition

Image credit

© NASA/Voyager 2

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