The best time of year to see Pluto through a small telescope is here! The planet reaches its opposition on July 14, 2019. That is when Earth is going between Pluto and the sun. At opposition, Pluto appears more or less opposite the sun in our sky, rising in the east as the sun sets in the west. At this opposition, we aren’t going directly between Pluto and the sun this year as we did in 2018. Also, don’t let that opposition date – July 14 – fool you. Pluto is visible somewhere in the sky, for some hours of the night, for most of every year. July 14 just marks the middle of the best time of year to see it.
Small icy Pluto – discovered in 1930 – requires a telescope to be seen. It’s some 1,000 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! It’s seen to move because it’s so much closer to us than the distant stars.
In fact, Pluto is the most distant object in our solar system that can be viewed through amateur telescopes. Here are a few tips for spotting Pluto in 2019:
– You’ll need at least an 8-inch telescope. A 12-inch telescope – like the one used by Efrain Morales to capture the image at the bottom of this post – will capture even more light from this distant world.
– You’ll want dark, clear, country skies. Visit EarthSky’s Best Places to Stargaze page for dark locations near you.
– Pluto is traveling in front of the constellation Sagittarius this year, as seen from Earth.
Bottom line: The only way to spot Pluto with an amateur telescope is to locate its starfield through a telescope, and watch over several nights for the object that moves. That’ll be Pluto. Over the weeks following its opposition, Pluto will rise four minutes earlier each night. That means it’ll be in the east at sundown, setting before dawn, by August. Finding it requires patience and a telescope! But it’s very satisfying to see Pluto with your own eyes.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded 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.