The Position of Uranus in the Night Sky:
2019 to 2032
by Martin J. Powell
Star map showing the path of Uranus against the background stars of Aries and Taurus from 2019 to 2032, with the position of each opposition date marked (click on the thumbnail for the full-size image). From 2019 through 2022 Uranus describes a series of shallow, Southward-facing loops because the planet is then South of the ecliptic (the individual loops are about 4º wide and are not discernible in this map because of its small scale). From 2023 through 2025 Uranus describes hybrid loops (half loop, half zig-zag) followed by zig-zag formations from 2026 to 2030, the planet crossing to the North of the ecliptic in mid-2029. Uranus then returns to hybrid loops from 2031 through to the end of the period.
The star map applies to observers in the Northern hemisphere (i.e. North is up); for the Southern hemisphere view, click here. The faintest stars shown on the map have an apparent magnitude of about +4.8. Printer-friendly versions of this chart are available for Northern and Southern hemisphere views. Astronomical co-ordinates of Right Ascension (longitude, measured Eastwards in hrs:mins from the First Point of Aries) and Declination (latitude, measured in degrees North or South of the celestial equator) are marked around the border of the chart.
Star names shown in yellow-green were officially adopted by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in 2017. Three of the four such star names shown on this chart were drawn from Chinese, Hindu and Mayan mythology (for more details see the IAU's Working Group on Star Names pages).
The above chart will help in finding the general location of the planet throughout the period in question, however a detailed finder chart will be required to pinpoint the planet precisely - of which, see below. Photographs showing the region of the night sky through which Uranus passes during the period can be seen below.
After having spent moe than a decade positioned in the constellation of Pisces, the Fishes, Uranus entered Aries, the Ram, in April 2018. The planet retrograded (moved East to West) back into Pisces for three months from early December of that year, before turning direct (West to East) and moving back into Aries in February 2019.
From 2019 through 2032 Uranus slowly loops its way North-eastwards along the ecliptic (the apparent path of the Sun, which the Moon and planets follow closely), entering Taurus, the Bull in late May 2024, spending seven months there before retrograding back into Aries for a little over two months in late December 2024. The planet crosses the ascending node of its orbit (moving from South to North of the ecliptic) in May 2029. Whilst in North-eastern Taurus in April 2030, Uranus experiences its Northern hemisphere summer solstice, when its Northern pole faces towards the Earth. The blue-green ice giant enters Gemini, the Twins, in mid-August 2032, spending a little over three months there before retrograding back into Taurus in late November of that year for a six-month period. The planet returns to Gemini for the longer term in early June of 2033, where it will reach its most Northerly point of the zodiac in March 2034.
Uranus imaged by John Sussenbach (Houten, Netherlands) in November 2015 using a 14-inch (355 mm) Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope fitted with a CMOS camera and infra-red filter (click on the thumbnail for a lerger image) (Image: John Sussenbach / ALPO-Japan)
Uranus reaches opposition to the Sun (when it is closest to the Earth and brightest in the sky for the year) every 369.6 days on average, i.e. about 4 days later in each successive year. In any given year the apparent magnitude of the planet varies little, reducing by about 0.2 magnitudes from opposition to superior conjunction. Opposition magnitudes across the period of the star map vary from +5.7 (in 2019) to +5.5 (in 2032). Around all opposition dates, the planet is due South at local midnight in the Northern hemisphere (due North at local midnight in the Southern hemisphere).
The apparent diameter of the planet (its angular size when seen from the Earth) at opposition throughout the period is from 3".7 (3.7 arcseconds, where 1 arcsecond = 1/3600th of a degree) in 2019, increasing to 3".9 in 2032.
Uranus reached aphelion (its furthest point from the Sun) in 2009, when it was positioned at a distant 20.1 Astronomical Units (3,000 million kms or 1.87 thousand million miles) from the Sun. The planet was then at its most poorly-placed orbital position for Earthbound observers. The situation only slowly improves and observers will have to wait until 2050 (when Uranus is in Leo, the Lion) before the planet reaches perihelion (its closest point to the Sun). Uranus will then be located 18.28 AU (2.73 thousand million kms or 1.7 thousand million miles) from the Sun and will be seen at its brightest and best from Earth; its opposition magnitude will then be +5.3 and its apparent diameter will reach 4".0.
[Terms in yellow italics are explained in greater detail in an associated article describing planetary movements in the night sky.]
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Uranus Conjunctions with other Planets,
Viewed from the orbiting Earth, whenever two planets appear to pass each other in the night sky (a line-of-sight effect) the event is known as a planetary conjunction or appulse. Not all planetary conjunctions will be visible from the Earth, however, because many of them take place too close to the Sun. Furthermore, not all of them will be seen from across the world; the observers' latitude will affect the altitude (angle above the horizon) at which the two planets are seen at the time of the event, and the local season will affect the sky brightness at that particular time. A flat, unobstructed horizon will normally be required to observe most of them.
The majority of conjunctions involving Uranus are not spectacular to view because the planet is never brighter than magnitude +5.3, which is near the limit of naked-eye visibility under typical modern-day sky conditions. Twilight quickly renders the planet unobservable (even through binoculars) such that conjunctions taking place less than about 20° from the Sun are difficult or impossible to see. Since Venus is always less than 47° from the Sun and Mercury is always less than about 27° from the Sun, it follows that conjunctions of either of these inferior planets with Uranus will have a limited window of time within which they will be observable.
Because Uranus is positioned in Aries and Taurus during the period in question, i.e. around 10° to 20° North of the celestial equator, conjunctions during this time are rather more favourable to observers in the Northern hemisphere than to those in the Southern hemisphere. Owing to the steep angle that the ecliptic presents to the local horizon along this section of the zodiac, evening conjunctions will favour Northern hemisphere observers whilst morning conjunctions will favour Southern hemisphere observers.
Optical aid will nearly always be required to glimpse Uranus as a pale blue-green 'star'. Even when the elongation is favourable, a further problem beckons in that the glare caused by Venus - which typically shines over 7,000 times brighter than Uranus - makes it difficult to see the much fainter planet beside it. In such instances (e.g. for the Venus-Uranus conjunction of March 31st 2023) binocular observers may find it easier to position Venus just outside the binocular field of view so that the eye can more comfortably view the distant gas giant.
On the evening of March 31st 2023 Venus passes 1°.3 to the North of Uranus in central Eastern Aries. At latitude 50° North the pair stand 13° above the Western horizon as Uranus becomes visible at nightfall whilst at 30° North they are 18° above the Western horizon. The solar elongation is a comfortable 37°, meaning that Northern hemisphere observers can view the pair in darkness for about 1¼ hours before setting. Southern hemisphere observers find the pair positioned low above the WNW horizon as darkness falls - only about 9° high as Uranus becomes visible at 20° South. Twilight and low altitude render the conjunction unobservable South of about latitude 30° South.
The morning conjunction between Venus and Uranus on July 4th 2025 takes place about a month after Venus' greatest Western elongation, when the planet is positioned a wide 43° from the Sun. The separation between the two planets (2°.4) is however also wide. As Uranus disappears from view at the start of dawn in the Southern hemisphere, the pair are positioned 24° high in the ENE at 15° South, 21° high in the North-east at 25° South, 18° high in the North-east at 35° South and 13° high in the North-east at 45° South. From the Northern hemisphere, where the summer solstice has recently passed, the pair are positioned in the ENE as dawn commences, the altitudes being as follows: 14° at 30° North, 19° in the Northern Tropics and 24° at the Equator. The event is not observable from latitudes North of the mid-Northern hemisphere.
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Uranus' most interesting conjunctions take place when the planet is within a few months of opposition, at which times they involve the superior planets Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune; these events are rare, however. The most recent conjunction of note was between Uranus and Jupiter on January 2nd 2011 - the last of three conjunctions which took place between the two planets during the 2010-11 observing season (for more details, see here). Most conjunctions between Uranus and the superior planets, however, occur at elongations of less than 90°, when Uranus is below its brightest magnitude in any given apparition. During the 2019-25 period, for example, only one of nine observable conjunctions takes place at an elongation of greater than 90°, Uranus being no brighter than magnitude +5.8 at every conjunction. Uranus' next favourable conjunctions with superior planets will be with Jupiter in September 2037 and with Saturn in 2079(!).
A morning conjunction betweem Mars and Uranus on July 15th 2024 takes place near Taurus' Western border with Aries (about 6° SSE of The Pleiades star cluster). With an angular separation between the two planets of about one apparent Full Moon diameter (0°.5) the pair can easily be contained within the field-of-view of a wide telescopic eyepiece. At magnitude +0.9, Mars shines about 86 times brighter than its distant companion. As Uranus disappears from view at first light the two planets are positioned 39° high in the ENE at the Equator, 31° high in the North-east at 25° South, 26° high in the North-east at 35° South and 19° high in the NNE at 45° South. Southern hemisphere observers can view the event for a period between 2¼ hours (from 45° South) and 2¾ hours (from the Equator). In the lower Northern hemisphere, the pair are seen towards the East as dawn commences, the altitudes being as follows: 20° high at 40° North, 29° high at 30° North and 34° high from the Northern Tropics. From here they are visible for between 2 hours (from 40° North) and 2½ hours (from the Northern Tropics). At the moment of conjunction Uranus is twelve times further away than Mars and through telescopes it appears about two-thirds of the apparent disk size of the Red Planet.
In terms of their sizes, their positions within the Solar System and their constituent elements, Uranus and Neptune are often considered to be planetary 'twins' and the term ice giant is often used to describe them. From the viewpoint of the Earth, faster-moving Uranus 'overtook' Neptune when the planets were in Sagittarius in July 1993, at which point they were seen in conjunction. This was the first time the two planets had been in conjunction since they were discovered (Uranus in 1781, Neptune in 1846). Conjunctions between Uranus and Neptune are rare events indeed, occurring about every 172 years; the next one will take place in the year 2164.
The following table lists the conjunctions involving Uranus which take place at solar elongations of greater than 20° over the period in question. In several cases, other planets are also in the vicinity and these are detailed. Note that, because some of the conjunctions occur in twilight, the planets involved may not appear as bright as their listed magnitude suggests.
Uranus onjunctions with other planets from 2018 to 2025 (click on thumbnail for full-size table) The column headed 'UT' is the Universal Time (equivalent to GMT) of the conjunction (in hrs : mins). The separation (column 'Sep') is the angular distance between the two planets, measured relative to Uranus, e.g. on 2019 May 18, Venus is positioned 1°.1 South of Uranus at the time shown. The 'Favourable Hemisphere' column shows the Hemisphere in which the conjunction will be best observed. Note that observers located close to the Northern/Southern visibility boundary of any given conjunction will find it difficult or impossible to observe because of low altitude and/or bright twilight.
In the 'When Visible' column, a distinction is made between Dawn/Morning visibility and Dusk/Evening visibility; the terms Dawn/Dusk refer specifically to the twilight period before sunrise/after sunset, whilst the terms Evening/Morning refer to the period after darkness falls/before twilight begins (some conjunctions take place in darkness, others do not, depending upon latitude). The 'Con' column shows the constellation in which the planets are positioned at the time of the conjunction.
To find the direction in which the conjunctions will be seen on any of the dates in the table, note down the constellation in which the planets are located ('Con' column) on the required date and find the constellation's rising direction (for Dawn/Morning conjunctions) or setting direction (for Dusk/Evening conjunctions) for your particular latitude in the Rise-Set direction table.
Although any given conjunction takes place at a particular instant in time, it is worth pointing out that, because of the planets' relatively slow daily motions, such events are interesting to observe for several days both before and after the actual conjunction date.
There are in fact two methods of defining a planetary conjunction date: one is measured in Right Ascension (i.e. perpendicular to the celestial equator) and the other is measured along the ecliptic, which is inclined at 23½° to the Earth's equatorial plane (this is due to the tilt of the Earth's axis in space). An animation showing how conjunction dates are determined by each method can be found on the Jupiter-Uranus 2010-11 triple conjunction page. Although conjunctions measured along the ecliptic can be significantly closer, the Right Ascension method is the more commonly used, and it is the one which is adopted here.
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Aries and Taurus Photographs showing the region of the night sky through which Uranus passes from 2019 to the early 2030s. In the Aries & Western Taurus photo (right), stars can be seen down to about magnitude +7.5. In the Taurus photo (left), the limiting magnitude is about +8 (click on the thumbnails to see the full-size photos)
Finder Chart for Uranus, 2023
Throughout most of 2023 Uranus can be found near the central Eastern border of Aries, the Ram, positioned to the South of the star Botein ( Ari or Delta Arietis, mag. +4.3). It reaches opposition about 2° SSE of the star in mid-November.
The path of Uranus in central Eastern Aries during 2023, marked on the first day of each month (click on the thumbnail for the full-size image,). A Southern hemisphere view can be found here. Periods when the planet is too close to the Sun to observe are indicated by a dashed line. Ideally, searches for Uranus should be carried out on Moonless nights, i.e. in the two-week period centred on the New Moon in any given month.
Uranus reaches opposition to the Sun on November 13th 2023 (indicated on the chart by the symbol ) when it shines at magnitude +5.6 and measures 3".8 (3.8 arcseconds) in diameter. The planet is then 18.631 Astronomical Units (2,787 million kms or 1,732 million statute miles) from the Earth.
Much of the star field in the chart should be easily contained within a binocular field of view (which typically ranges from 5° to 9°). Stars are shown down to magnitude +8.5. Right Ascension and Declination co-ordinates are marked around the border, for cross-referencing with a star atlas. Printer-friendly (greyscale) versions of the chart are available for Northern and Southern hemisphere views.
Click here to see a 'clean' star map of the area (i.e. without planet path); observers may wish to use the 'clean' star map as an aid to plotting the planet's position on a specific night - in which case, a printable version can be found here.
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Copyright Martin J Powell 2018-2023
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