After traveling 3 billion miles from Earth – with nearly 9 years since its launch – the New Horizons spacecraft is about to encounter Pluto. The encounter will occur Tuesday, but the fun has already started. Click here for updates on the New Horizons/ Pluto encounter. This world was considered a full-fledged planet when New Horizons was launched; now it’s officially a dwarf planet. Pluto – discovered in 1930 – requires a telescope to be seen. It’s about a thousand times too faint to see with the eye alone. How can you spot it? The only way is to locate Pluto’s starfield through a telescope, and watch over several nights for the object that moves. That’ll be Pluto!
In fact, Pluto is the most distant object in our solar system that can be viewed through amateur telescopes.
On July 6, 2015, Pluto passed opposition. Earth was passing (more or less) between the sun and Pluto, and those two bodies came closest to being on opposite sides of the sky on that date. Pluto is still rising around the time the sun sets and visible in Earth’s sky all night. The best time of year to see Pluto through a telescope is here! A few tips for spotting Pluto in 2015:
– You’ll need at least an 8-inch telescope. A 12-inch telescope – like the one used by Efrain Morales to capture the image above – is even better.
– You’ll want dark, clear, country skies.
– Pluto is traveling in front of the constellation Sagittarius this year, as seen from Earth.
Click here to download a full-page printable PDF from skyandtelescope.com, showing Pluto’s path through the stars from June through December 2015 — the entire period during which it’s visible from mid-northern latitudes.
Bottom line: Pluto requires a telescope to be seen. The only way to spot it is to locate Pluto’s starfield through a telescope, and watch over several nights for the object that moves. That’ll be Pluto!
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.