This Thursday evening, it's time to get better acquainted with Uranus.
At 6:30 p.m. PDT, the online astronomy site Slooh will be pointing its telescope in the Canary Islands at the third largest planet in the solar system, and streaming the results live for the public to see. We'll have a video feed live at the top of this post.
Slooh picked Thursday evening to do its Uranus broadcast because that's when the planet will be at opposition -- meaning you can draw a straight line from the sun to Earth to Uranus. When a planet has reached opposition, it rises just when the sun is setting and sets when the sun starts to rise. It also appears bigger and brighter than usual -- kind of like a full moon.
Uranus is the third largest planet in the solar system. It has two sets of thin, brightly colored rings and 27 moons named after characters from Shakespeare and Alexander Pope (Puck! Juliet!) It appears to be a gorgeous blue-green color because the methane in its atmosphere absorbs red light.
It takes Uranus 84 Earth years to orbit the sun, and because its rotation axis is parallel to its orbital plane, it appears to be rotating on its side. It is one of two ice giant planets in the solar system (Neptune is the other one), and according to a NASA website, most of its mass is contained in a liquid core consisting of icy water, methane and ammonia. Slushy!
Backyard astronomers can look for Uranus on their own Thursday evening, but even at opposition it will not be visible to the naked eye. If you have a telescope, you can look for the planet one-third of the way up in the southeastern sky, in the constellation Cetus, according to a release from Slooh. Slooh's astronomers say 10 p.m. is the best time to look.
You can find more detailed information about seeing Uranus, and its moons on Universe Today, but the site warns that finding the planet on your own could be a challenge.
So take advantage of the digital age, and learn more about Uranus right here, online. It will definitely be easy to find.
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