To find these two outer planets you’ll need a telescope and good star maps!
This is the easier of the two to locate, as it’s easily visible using binoculars. It is slightly brighter than sixth magnitude, which in theory makes it just visible to the naked eye, but in practice you’ll need a darker sky than applies throughout most of the UK, and pretty good eyesight, to see it without optical aid. Even with binoculars, unless you magnify its image you won’t be able to distinguish it from a star, so you will need to know its position accurately.
First, use a star map such as our interactive map to find the constellation of Aries, to the lower left of centre. The pattern of three stars is easy to spot. With binoculars or your telescope, use our chart below to navigate yourself to the correct object. The three stars of Aries are at the top of the map and the circle shows the typical field of view of binoculars or an optical finder telescope.
Uranus moves in a loop during the period October 2019 to March 2020, and positions are marked every 20 days. The inset shows its track more clearly. The solid white line is called the ecliptic, which is the path of the Sun through the sky, and which also is the centre of the zone occupied by the Moon and planets.
Through a telescope, Uranus appears as a pale slightly bluish dot. You’ll need a magnification of around 100 or more to see its disc clearly. Don’t expect to see any markings, though – little detail is visible on the planet.
If you found Uranus, you can now try your luck with Neptune, as you’ll need the same skills but more so! This time, the constellation to find is Aquarius – down to the right, below Pegasus. Your best guide is the little zigzag pattern of stars known as the Water Jar, although these stars are hard to find with the naked eye in poor skies.
Neptune is fainter than Uranus, at magnitude 7.8–8.0, and may not be easy to spot with small binoculars in poor skies, but fortunately it’s not far from the star Phi Aquarii, also shown on the inset, which should be visible with binoculars. The positions are shown only to February 2020 because the planet gets too low in the sky to be seen after this.
Again, you’ll need at least a magnification of 100 to see the pale blue disc of Neptune, which is about half the size of that of Uranus.