Distant Neptune at its best

Distant Neptune at its best

by William J. Bechaver

EARTH — This month, we still have several excellent opportunities to view the planets in our solar system.

This week, we will focus on Neptune, the most distant large planet in our solar system.

We spend little time with the distant planets Uranus and Neptune. They are so distant, though large, they are never visible with the naked eye. However, this week, Neptune will be highlighted for its position in the sky, seen or unseen.

This Friday, Neptune will be at a position we know as opposition. As we have come to know, opposition is when a planet lies opposite the sun in our sky, meaning both the more distant planet and Earth are on the same side of the sun, so that the planet remains in our sky for the entire night.

When on the same side of the solar system, opposition is generally the time when we are closest to the more distant planet in our orbits.

This week, at the closest point in our orbits, Neptune will be an incomprehensible 2 billion 685 million miles away from us. It is more than 60 times further from us than is Mars, or amazingly, 3 times further distant than is Saturn, which is the most distant planet visible with the unaided eye. At Neptune’s immense distance, it takes the light from it four hours to reach our planet, so we see Neptune as it looked four hours ago, and never as it looks right now.

Even in our strongest telescopes, Neptune is but a faint blue orb of light. But, we will take the opportunity this weekend to try to focus on it, and catch a rare glimpse of the most distant ice giant planet in our solar system.

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This week we will host our special viewing of all the planets scheduled for three evenings. On the evening of Friday, September 7, we will set up the new SPACE Telescope for the first of three scheduled public viewings. It will be the first official viewing with the new telescope system.

Everyone is invited to attend the public viewing.

We will be set up behind the Huerfano County Community Center, Tenth Street and Russell, in Walsenburg, on the north side of the John Mall High School baseball field. We will set up just inside the third baseline gate, just in foul territory. We will set up before the sun sets, and begin viewing Venus as soon as it is dark enough to see it, beginning at about 8 pm.

We are planning on setting up every night this weekend, to give many people the opportunity to view the planets, and give us the chance to avoid foul weather or cloudy sky conditions. Public viewings will be available Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings, September 7 – 9.

Try to join us one of the evenings for beautiful views of Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars, and if we’re lucky, Neptune!

Come to the community center for rare views of the planets of our solar system. The viewings are presented by SPACE • Spanish Peaks Amateur Cosmos Enthusiasts and is sponsored by the World Journal.

Thanks for your continued interest in astronomy, and hope to see you at the planetary viewing on September 7!

William J. Bechaver is the director of SPACE • Spanish Peaks Amateur Cosmos Enthusiasts, the premier Astronomical Society for Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico.