Uranus Will Be Visible With the Naked Eye Tonight
There's nothing funny about going outside tonight to look at Uranus.
Amateur stargazing is always hit-and-miss. Cloud cover, light pollution, and the simple lack of knowledge about the skies may all get in the way of spotting spectacular celestial occurrences when pretty and unusual lights dance around above us.
Tonight, though, it might be worth giving a try to looking up into the night's sky yourself. If you're able to get an un-obscured view of the heavens, you might just get the chance to see that most elusive and beautiful of sights: Uranus.
The eighth planet in the solar system doesn't exactly have a particularly speedy orbit around the sun, and its elliptical cycle means that its relative proximity to Earth is prone to vary wildly. Tonight, Uranus will be as close to our own planet as it gets, at an incredible 1.7 billion miles (it's 200 million miles further away when it's as far away from us as it gets).
This means that tonight, Uranus should (weather permitting) be close enough to Earth to be visible to the naked eye. It'll be on display for most of this month, but October 19 is a particularly special night as Uranus' position relative to the sun means that it'll be reflecting more light than it will all year, and that means that amateur stargazers will get the best possible view of the planet.
Look up tonight and you should be able to see Uranus, even without a telescope. pic.twitter.com/Qt5GelEOrM— Andrew Rader (@marsrader) October 18, 2017
That said, this isn't going to be a huge illumination. At its peak tonight, Uranus' visibility will be ranked at a magnitude of 5.7 on a scale where, as in golf, the smaller the score, the better. By comparison, the sun is magnitude -27, and a magnitude 7 is the largest possible number on the scale wherein objects in the sky are still visible. Uranus isn't going to be invisible, but it also won't exactly drown out the sun, or even other planets that will appear in the sky.
For those stargazers who've put a little money into their hobby, the Uranus visitation gets even more exciting. Because of its closeness, as well as because of the light that the sun will reflect onto the planet, Uranus will be even clearer when viewed from a telescope or even a pair of binoculars.
Anyone in possession of a telescope should definitely give it a try tonight, as it should be possible to see not only Uranus itself, but also the rings that slowly orbit the planet.
As if that wasn't enough to make stargazing exciting, debris left behind a long time ago by Halley's comet is currently in Earth's orbital path, and that means that October 21 will see some particularly cool meteor showers across the globe.
In other words, if you had any plans for the next few days that involved anything other than lying on your back and staring at the sky, or pushing your face close up against a telescope, it's time to cancel them - now is the time to be looking up to the heavens, watching fire shooting past Uranus.