Finding Uranus in 2020

Here’s how to find that elusive planet Uranus for yourself. It’s well placed in the sky right now, but it takes a bit of effort – after all, no-one spotted it throughout human history until 1781.

Uranus is a planet whose brightness is very close to the limit of visibility with the naked eye. However, that is only true under good conditions, and most of us have light pollution and skies that are a bit hazy to contend with. So to find the seventh planet from the Sun you will probably need to use binoculars, and wait for a good clear night as well.

In 2020 there are no bright stars near Uranus to act as a guide, so you’ll need to get to know the fainter stars in the area. Start by looking for Mars – which you really can’t miss at the moment because it’s really bright and is visible in mid sky looking south during the evening. Some way to the left of Mars is another very obvious feature of the sky – the Pleiades cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters. Uranus lies roughly halfway between Mars and the Pleiades, but you’ll need to look at the nearby star patterns to find it.

How to find Uranus in 2020
How to find Uranus in 2020. Map based on Stellarium

Look first for the pattern of three stars that are the best-known feature of Aries, the Ram. Then look below those for two rather fainter stars that make up the bottom of the head of Cetus, the Sea Monster. This is where your binoculars might come in handy. Trace out the rest of the head of the monster, so that you can locate the two stars at its top. Then use the patterns of stars in the diagram below to pick out Uranus.

Close-up of potision of Uranus
Close-up of the position of Uranus. Map based on Stellarium

You won’t see anything other than a starlike point with binoculars. The planet is so distant that it’s very small as seen in the sky, and only a reasonably powerful telescope, magnifying about 100 times, will show its tiny slightly bluish disc.

Uranus is shown in its position for the beginning of November 2020. But later in the year, refer to the diagram below which shows its slow movement from left to right. In 2021 it starts to move back along almost the same track.

Track of Uranus in 2020-21. Map based on SkyMap

Watch a video recorded under the stars showing how to find Uranus. Best viewed full screen and under dim conditions: