Can you see Uranus through a telescope?
Last updated: 18th April 2019
Spoiler Alert: Viewing Uranus through a telescope can be quite challenging. After all, it is one of the most distant planets from Earth and it was not discovered until well after the telescope was invented. For many astronomer amateurs, Uranus is usually not part of their regular stargazing schedule as it does require a level of equipment that is not always available to beginners as well as a good knowledge of the sky, and the constellations.
That being said, we are never afraid of a little challenge, are we?
Who first saw Uranus through a telescope?
William Herschel was an expert astronomer who built many telescopes derived from Newton’s design. On the evening of March 13, 1781, while observing the sky with a telescope 7-inch aperture (18 cm), he discovered a small bright object that does not appear to be on any map of the sky.
At first, he thinks that it is probably just a comet and so he decides to repeat his observation the following night. The celestial object was at the same spot, it had not moved at all!
He has just discovered a new planet, the first since ancient times, and the eighth of the solar system. He named this planet Georgium Sidus (“George’s star”), in honour of King George III of England. Herschel will later make the additional discovery of two of the largest moons of Uranus – Titania and Oberon, in 1787. Ultimately, the German astronomer Johann Elert Bode will give this planet the name of Uranus (the Greek god of the sky).
So If Herschel was able to detect Uranus through a homemade telescope built a few hundred years ago, can we do the same?
Can you see Uranus with a Telescope?
The answer is definitely yes but depending on your optical instrument and its aperture, don’t expect to see a giant blue disk with a distinct atmosphere inside the lens of your eyepiece, even with the right magnification power. Only Hubble can produce that kind of images, unfortunately!
This type of observation is at the limit of what amateur astronomers can really do unless you can invest in a telescope that cost a few thousand dollars. For the best viewing conditions, a telescope of at least 300 mm (12-inch) in diameter is recommended, a long telescope focal length, a good quality camera and a planetary filter that passes red and near-infrared should be used.
That being said, we found many report’s online from people who managed to see Uranus through an amateur or home telescope, from their own backyard.
User Bill from cloudynights.com says:
I saw it on my local news that Uranus was visible in the southern sky. But this time I wanted to catch this planet in a different way. For the record, I have never seen it before.
I put a simple inclination meter on my scope. (on the right side). And I put a compass on top side of my scope. I looked what the inclination should be a at 11:00 to 12 am and recorded the direction. (165 ti 180 degrees) It took some time….But I used the inclination and moved the scope in the azimuth until I found it. A bluish-green disk in space. I am so proud that I found it!
The guys from bathastronomers.org.uk say:
Observing Uranus on a casual basis is not particularly difficult if you know where to look. It is on the margin of naked eye visibility, and therefore easy to see in binoculars, and a typical amateur’s telescope will reveal a small bluish dot. But that dot is only about 3.5” in diameter at opposition, as compared to Mars (14” to 25”) or Jupiter (44” to 50”). Most textbooks and amateur observing guides say that useful observations with amateur telescopes are not really practical, and most amateurs follow that advice.
Related: Check out our guide on how to choose your first telescope.
How to easily find Uranus
Uranus can be hard to find in the night sky, especially if you are in an area with a high level of light pollution. It’s so far away that it’ll most likely look like every other star in the sky.
However, thanks to modern-day technology there are many mobile apps for backyard stargazers that show you exactly what’s in the sky and where they are.
Simply start the application, search for Uranus and point your phone in the indicated direction… Finding the blue planet with your telescope will be much easier that way. Good luck!
When can you see Uranus in your home telescope?
The best time to attempt the observation of Uranus is when the planet is positioned at “Opposition”. This means that the planet is at its closest to us, while Earth is placed precisely between the Sun and Uranus. When this happens the planet shines at magnitude 5.7, making it slightly brighter and easier to see than usual.
Even at its closest approach to the Earth, however, it is difficult to distinguish any details: it won’t look more than a star-like point of light without the help a telescope.
What does Uranus look like through a telescope?
Uranus often looks to me like a little blueish ball with a 3-dimension effect that some other planets don’t have. Once you have spotted it once, it is a lot easier thereafter. Below are some pictures of Uranus as seen from telescopes of various sizes.
What does Uranus looks like through a space telescope?
The best pictures of Uranus that we have so far come from either space probes flying by or the space telescope Hubble. Unfortunately, space agencies haven’t got any plans to explore this planet in more depth for the time being, as the budgets aren’t there and scientists prefer to focus on celestial targets with more scientific value.
Hopefully, we will obtain better images once the brand new space James Webb Telescope is deployed in a few years time.
More Planets to Observe
I have been an avid stargazer for over 15 years. The night sky is a treasure trove of celestial wonders that I will never stop looking up to. From planets and galaxies to nebulae, I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to observe them with my own eyes, and I hope to help others do the same.
15 thoughts on “uranus through a telescope”
I tried to find this planet once but the light pollution in Paris is terrible.
I have tried unsuccessfully to see Uranus and Neptune from my backyard many time. I think my telescope’s aperture is too small and those planets are too far 🙁
Light in Tucson, AZ was so bad I could not see Uranus, but I will try again!
Best of luck to you Lizzy, this planet is a really hard one to see!
I recently saw Uranus through a 130 mm aperture. It was a Celestron StarSense. Unfortunately it just appeared to be a little dot. But with that small of a telescope, I was surprised to actually be able to make out Uranus and Neptune. As well as Pluto. Though Pluto looked like a little speck, I’m looking forward to upgrading my lenses to see what that does for me.
Hey Eric, thanks for sharing your experience. Uranus, Neptune and Pluto are really pushing amateur telescopes to their technical limits. I follow many astronomers and astrophotographers who use the latest state-of-the-art telescopes, and they also struggle with these distant planets. Uranus will be better positioned for observation in October, perhaps it is worth trying again then? Good luck and clear skies 🙂
I just pulled this one off on a whim. This morning, August 15, 2020, 0445 PST, Celestron Explorer DX 102mm. Optimal viewing conditions.
I pretty much cheated by using the Starsense App. With a really good eyepiece (X-Cel LX 9mm w/ 2x Barlow) you can just make out the disk of Uranus and the color, teal. It was amazing.
I tried for Neptune but this morning it was too low in the horizon. I will try for Mercury and Ceres in the coming weeks as well.
Thank you for sharing your experience, Christopher. Uranus and Neptune will remain a distant mystery to me until I can afford to upgrade my rig. However, it is super motivating to see that other amateur astronomers are able to see these planets and that it is indeed possible to do so. Clear Sky 🙂
9/19/2020 – 2:20am – successfully spotted Uranus in a 10″ dobsonian reflector using a low magnification spotting scope and the aid of the Sky Safari android app. Sky was steady with roughly bortle 4.5-5 light pollution (mostly coming from the eastern horizon) It’s location was slightly northeast to Mars at the time. The constellation Orion was just peaking up over the east horizon. I observed it as a mint blue green disc approximately the size of a ball bering – distinctly different from the surrounding stars.
Just found this site, awesome job. I’ve been on the hunt for Uranus for a few days here in upstate NY with no luck so far. Definitely will keep at it though as my goal is to photograph all the planets with my phone. (If it’s possible). I have the obvious ones so far. Jupiter, Saturn, Mars and Venus(as well as andromeda and some other popular night sky targets).
Anyway, keep up the good work here. It’s super helpful and knowing others are struggling just tells me that not finding it yet isn’t me doing wrong.
Celestron astromaster 130
Hello Cubby, thank you so much for sharing your experience! Uranus may be pushing your Astromaster 130 to its optical limit, but it’s not impossible! See this video: https://youtu.be/4AN3Rc2zYJo
Uranus and Neptune are really challenging for many amateur astronomers indeed. But it’s a good thing that we don’t give up easily, huh? Good luck and clear skies!
Hey Jeramie, thank you for sharing your experience of observing Uranus. It is really motivating to hear that you have managed to see this distant world! I should give this planet another chance soon! Thank you very much and the sky is clear!
I unsuccessfully attempted to locate Uranus with my Celestron AstroMaster 70AZ telescope back on November 10th. Location is Penticton Canada. (moderate light pollution) I was using a decent phone app to know the planet’s approximate position. I couldn’t distinguish it with surrounding stars. I will definitely give in another try when weather is clear again.
Hi Tom. I’m a little late to this discussion, obviously, but wanted to share my experience anyway. Mine is an Orion SpaceProbe 130 mm scope. This past January I was able to get Uranus and capture a clear (if unspectacular) image of it on camera. I managed this only through sheer dumb luck – one of the apps I use sends text alerts if there’s going to be a good viewing opportunity of particular bodies, and I got one saying Uranus would be easier than usual to spot that night because it was only a couple degrees next to the moon at a certain hour. I just happened to be home so I got really excited about the chance – I’ve only been using the scope regularly for about a year, and although it’s my favorite planet (I just like how quirky it is), I considered it a long-term project rather than a regular view to enjoy, because I knew how difficult it is to pinpoint. Anyway, I get the scope outside in a hurry after getting the text, hover around the moon for a minute, and sure enough that little blue ball came right into view – a little faint but unmistakable non-twinkling blue right where the text said it’d be. The astro camera I use really couldn’t pick it up at all, so I resorted to just using my Pixel smartphone and got some clear shots. Not nearly as detailed as the images of Jupiter and Saturn I’ve managed (who hasn’t), but I’m more stoked about nailing it than really anything else I’ve found and photographed – I lit up like a kid on Christmas morning lol
Anyway, just wanted to share.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Brandon. I know exactly what you felt that night and it brings me so much joy to know there are others out there experiencing this. All the best in your stargazing journey, and clear skies to you!
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