Monday, November 30, 2009

Uranus and Neptune from Earth

It is possible for the amateur astronomer to see both Uranus and Neptune. In fact, if you know where to look, Uranus is visible, albeit very faintly, even to the naked eye, provided that the night is very dark, very clear, and you are far from sources of light pollution. To view Neptune, which is much fainter than Uranus, requires an advanced amateur telescope. You don’t have to spend years sweeping the skies to find these dim and distant worlds.
But what can you expect to see? Uranus will appear as a greenish disk, probably featureless—though it is not impossible, given a very good telescope and superb atmospheric conditions, to see atmospheric features and bright spots. It is even possible to see Titania and Oberon, the largest of the planet’s five moons. Even many advanced amateur astronomers have not seen Neptune. Blue in color, it is aptly named for the Roman god of the sea. If you locate the planet at all, it will be a featureless disk.

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