How to locate planet Uranus

Tonight – January 31, 2020 – the waxing crescent moon is roughly one day before first quarter phase and shines in the vicinity of the seventh planet, Uranus, on the sky’s dome. Uranus is located in front of the constellation Aries the Ram, though rather close to the border of the constellation Pisces the Fishes. This faint planet – barely bright enough to be glimpsed with the eye alone on a moonless night – will stay in front of this constellation for several years to come.

Of course, the moon and Uranus are only close together on the sky’s dome, not in space. The moon is nearly 250,000 miles (400,000 km) away from Earth, whereas Uranus lurks way out there, at well over 7,000 times the moon’s distance from us. Click on the Moon Tonight for the moon’s present distance in miles, kilometers or astronomical units (one astronomical unit = Earth/sun distance), and on Heavens-Above to know Uranus’ present distance from the sun and Earth in astronomical units.

The moon will leave this section of the starry sky after a day or two. That means you can use tonight’s moon for a ballpark idea of Uranus’ location. We provide links to detailed charts and other information in this post to help out in your quest for faint Uranus.

Now notice the planet Venus sitting rather low in the west at dusk and nightfall! It’ll be hard to miss this brilliant world, because Venus ranks as as the 3rd-brightest celestial body in all the heavens, after the sun and moon. Day by day, as darkness falls, Venus will climb upward, toward Uranus, while Uranus will fall downward, toward Venus. The two will meet up for a conjunction on March 9, 2020.

SKY CHART OF MOON & VENUS & URANUS

The night of January 31 is not the best night to look for Uranus. You might have a tough time glimpsing it in the moon’s glare. But read on, maybe bookmark some links, and then, when the moon leaves the evening sky, you’ll know where to look before Venus has its rendezvous with Uranus.

Sky chart of the constellation Arie sthe Ram.

We show the approximate position for Uranus relative to the Aries’ stars, 19 Aretis (abbreviated 19 Ari on chart) and HD 12479. Use these stars (which are about the same brightness as Uranus) to find Uranus, whose blue-green color may contrast to the reddish hue of the star HD 12479. Sky chart via IAU.

Uranus will reside in front of the constellation Aries the Ram for years to come, so a good familiarity with this constellation is your ticket to locating this faint world. For a detailed sky chart of Aries, click on The Sky Live; and for a sky chart showing Uranus’ position from 2019 to 2032, click on Naked Eye Planets. Or try this chart via Sky & Telescope.

Okay … got the star HD 12479? If not perhaps you can star-hop to it from athe brighter star, Omicron Pisces (abbreviated on the chart as Omi Pis)

Now you just need to know Uranus’ location with respect to this star for the current observing season. A good place to search is Skyandtelescope.com. People with good vision – and a good chart, like this one – can seek for Uranus with the unaided eye on dark, moonless nights. Of course, binoculars make the search for Uranus all the easier!

Be sure to click into the full chart, but here’s the relevant piece of it – for finding Uranus – below.

Ice giants Uranus and Neptune from skyandtelescope.com

By the way, Uranus was the first planet to be discovered via telescope, by William Herschel on March 13, 1781. At a distance of 20 astronomical units from Earth at present, this world is pretty easy to see through binoculars – that is, if you know right where to look.

Just remember, with the moon waxing to full now, unaided eye glimpses of Uranus won’t be likely in the coming nights. We hope the charts on this page will help you find Uranus later!

A dim blue ball (Uranus), with 4 much-fainter dots near it.

Steven Bellavia sent in this image of Uranus and 4 of its moons in December 2018. From upper left to lower right: Titania, Ariel, Umbriel, Oberon. Steve wrote: “Uranus has 27 moons, all of which are named after characters from the works of William Shakespeare and Alexander Pope … I find it amazing that William Herschel was able to see (and discover) Titania and Oberon, in 1787, only 6 years after he discovered the planet itself, using his home-built 18.8-inch telescope. Umbriel and Ariel were not discovered for another 64 years by William Lassell in 1851.”

large light-blue sphere

Voyager 2 is still the only spacecraft to have visited the outer planets Uranus and Neptune. Here is Uranus as seen by Voyager 2 in 1986. To the spacecraft, the planet appeared as a featureless blue ball. Image via NASA.

Bottom line: As darkness falls on January 31, 2020, the moon shines rather close to Uranus on the sky’s dome.

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Bruce McClure