See the Planet Uranus

This month take a look at the planet Uranus, the seventh planet from the Sun.  You can find Uranus by first finding the bright planet Jupiter, which you’ll see almost due south around 9:00 pm local time.  (For those of you in the southern hemisphere of Earth — such as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa — Jupiter will appear almost due north around 9:00 pm this month.)  Through a pair of binoculars or a telescope, Uranus will appear as a pale green dot, up and to the left of Jupiter (down and to the right of Jupiter, if you’re in the southern hemisphere).   Try observing when the Moon is not up as moonlight can drown out Uranus’ faint light.  If you have particularly good eyesight and are far from city lights, you might even see Uranus with your naked eye on a clear, moonless night.

Hubble Space Telescope image of the planet Uranus, its rings and large moons. The bright moon on the lower right corner is Ariel, which has a snowy white surface. Five small moons with dark surfaces can be seen just outside the rings. Clockwise from the top, they are: Desdemona, Belinda, Portia, Cressida, and Puck. Uranus has a total of 27 moons. Credit: NASA

With a surface area approximately 16 times that of Earth, Uranus is a really large planet, not as big as mighty Jupiter, but large nevertheless!  It’s also the coldest planet in the solar system: Unlike the other planets, Uranus has a cool planetary core.  Uranus is the 2nd ‘lightest’ planet in the solar system: It’s composed primarily of hydrogen, helium and methane.  This means that even though Uranus is much larger than Earth, if you could somehow stand on the surface of Uranus, the amount of gravity you would experience there would be only 89% of Earth’s gravity.  For example, a 100 pound child on Earth would weigh only 89 pounds on Uranus.

Uranus was discovered in 1781 by the German-born British astronomer (and musician) Sir William Herschel.  Herschel named the planet “George’s Star” after Britain’s King George III.  The grateful king awarded Herschel a stipend.  But astronomers soon referred to the planet as “Uranus,” naming this green giant after the classical god of the sky, Uranus, who was the father of Saturn, and the grandfather of Jupiter, the king of the gods in classical mythology.

Seeing planets this month

The mighty planet Jupiter again dominates the night sky this month.  Jupiter is the bright point of light you’ll see toward the south after sunset (towards the north, if you’re in the southern hemisphere of Earth): It’s easy to spot.

Venus and Saturn will be in the Name A Star Live constellation Virgo in November.  Both planets are low on the eastern horizon around sunrise in mid-November.  Look for the two planets about an hour before sunrise: Saturn will be above the planet Venus.

Saturn and Venus
Saturn and Venus in the predawn sky, mid-November 2010

Mars is on the other side of the Sun now, so we cannot see the Red Planet this month.

Finding your star in the night sky

Stars are located within constellations, which are just areas of the night sky. Scorpius, Aries and Taurus are examples of constellations. Your Name A Star Live Star Certificate displays the name of your constellation.

You can use our online World Constellation Guide to determine if you can see your constellation during the evening hours (between sunset and midnight). Of course, you’ll need a telescope to see your star. (That’s why we include the SLOOH online telescope experience in our Deluxe, Framed and Ultimate Gift Sets!) But you can see your constellation without the use of a telescope.

You can also find your constellation by using our Virtual Planetarium™ astronomy software. A planisphere is another useful device.