Thursday evening is a good time to take a few minutes to go outside, get some fresh air, and look up—because you’ll be able to see Uranus, bigger and brighter than ever before. It won’t be as close as the moon, of course, but for something that sits all the way out in the rear of the universe, it’s going to be one hell of a spectacle.
OK, all snickering butt jokes aside, thanks to a confluence of rotations lining up, Uranus is going to make a particularly close approach to Earth tonight. The blue-green gas giant, seventh planet from the sun and about four times bigger than Earth, will be just a mere 1.6 billion miles away from us.
Beside the fact that it’s Uranus’ closest approach, there are a couple other things that make Thursday night opportune to see the little bugger in the sky. For one, the moon is waning, so the sky will be under darker conditions. Uranus will also be sitting in opposition, which means it’s directly opposite of the sun, so it will be rising in the east as the sun sets in the west, more illuminated than usual and for nearly the entire night.
While normally Uranus is barely visible without a telescope, you should be able to spot it with your naked eye, even without binoculars. You can spot Uranus in the southeastern portion of the night sky. Look for the constellation Pisces, a pair of fish sprouting out into a “V” formation. You should be able to see a tiny blue-green Uranus flashing in between that “V” close to the bottom. The planet will be at its highest in the sky around 1 a.m. wherever you are (the planet’s peak will track with shifting time zones).
If you have trouble finding it, consider downloading a night-sky app like SkyView (for iPhone and Android), which should help make it easier to navigate the stars. Even if you miss your chance to see it tonight, the rest of the month will be a good time to spot Uranus. So don’t fret too much.