Night Sky Watch: Mars helps Mommyo spot Uranus

Mars and Uranus in a tete-a-tete tonight. No doubt gossiping about the much flashier Venus down below. (Illustration: Andrew Fazekas of Sky Safari)

Mars and Uranus in a tete-a-tete tonight. No doubt gossiping about the much flashier Venus down below. (Illustration: Andrew Fazekas of Sky Safari)

Apparently, the moon is tired, because Mars will be our tour guide tonight. (Assuming cloud cover and light pollution in Chicago permit us to even find Mars, that is. Oh, to live in a place with stars.)

But let’s be optimistic.

The pinprick of light immediately next to Mars tonight is Uranus. The brighter light down below and to the right is Venus. And if we’re really lucky, we might even spot the Comet Encke dashing through the solar system just below Venus.

Hmm, maybe I’d better break out the telescope, just in case. That’s a lot of action.

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About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book, Did Dinosaurs Have Belly Buttons?, is currently planned for release in 2018. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Ten-Year-Old at, chatting about books and the writing life at, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
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2 Responses to Night Sky Watch: Mars helps Mommyo spot Uranus

  1. rayworth1973 says:

    Depending on the size telescope you have…

    Mars should be pretty easy to spot. It will be a very small orange to bland-orange disk, (if any color at all) this time of year. It’s not very large due to it’s distance from us right now. Now, as for Uranus, if you live in a light-polluted area, you’ll have trouble distinguishing it from nearby stars unless you put some magnification on it, at least 80X or so. Then, you’ll see that it’s a very tiny disk instead of a flickering pinpoint (or blob) of light. It may still look like a blob, most of the time, but it’ll once in a while sharpen into a tiny disk. Because of the light pollution, you may or may not get a hint of a green-blue hue. The thing to remember is that it will not flash and change colors like a star tends to do. It will be more of a steady glow, though if the seeing (atmospheric turbulence) is bad, it may swim around a lot.

    Now, as for Venus, it will be the largest of the bunch and may look like a solid, bright ball, or a crescent, reminiscent of the moon. The surface, no matter how large a telescope, will be completely blank. If you have a super large or super quality telescope and the seeing is in the top one percent, you may get the hint of a cloud band. I’ve only seen that feature twice in fifty years.

    Comet Encke? Good luck! If you live in a light-polluted area, if you can find it at all, you’re most likely to see just the head, which will look like a fuzzy star. In fact, you may not be able to tell it from a galaxy or a globular cluster, especially if you don’t know the sky very well and don’t know where you’re aiming. If the sky is dark enough, you MAY see the hint of a tail, depending on how low it is in the sky and how dark it is where you are. Also, it depends on how large your telescope is.

    Good luck if you get out and give it a try.

    Also, if you are a beginner, start with low magnification and work your way up. Low magnification is using the eyepiece with the highest number, as in a 25mm versus a 9mm etc. You want to search with the lowest magnification and widest field to start with. A higher magnification is like looking through a soda straw, especially if you don’t use a telescope much! Once you are on the target and can keep it in the center of the field, THEN try the higher magnification.

    Hope this helps.


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