If you’re a night owl then you’ll have no doubt noticed the giant planet Jupiter rising brightly before midnight followed by a brightening Mars.
Now rising about 1 a.m., the red planet is getting closer to Earth and waxing towards its bright opposition in December.
Before it gets to that position—when Earth will be exactly between it and the Sun, making it seem at its biggest, brightest and best since 2020—the red planet will do something interesting this weekend when it nudges past the seventh planet Uranus.
If you’ve never seen Uranus then this is the weekend for you because for a few (late) nights it will become a reasonably easy object to spot for anyone with any pair of binoculars or a small telescope. That’s thanks to Mars, which we can use as a celestial signpost.
On its slow 84 Earth-years orbit of the Sun and in the constellation of Aries, the blue-green planet Uranus and the third-largest planet in our Solar System will this weekend be about 2º from the red planet.
Here’s exactly when, where and how to see both Mars and Uranus in the same field of view of a pair of binoculars or a small telescope and, just possibly, Uranus with your naked-eye (though you will have to be somewhere incredibly dark).
When to look for Mars and Uranus
About 1 a.m. on Sunday, July 31 and 24 hours later on Monday August 1, 2022 is when to look. Mars and Uranus will rise together shortly before this time and you’ll actually have the rest of the night to look at them. They will set in the west after the Sun has risen.
However, you can also look on the nights either side of those dates (so, early on Saturday and Tuesday) to see them pretty close to each other.
Where to look for Mars, Uranus and the Pleiades
Look east. Jupiter will be high in the southeastern night sky and Saturn beyond it to the south. Just after you see Mars you’ll see the fabulous open star cluster the Pleiades rising in the northeastern night sky.
How to look for Mars, Uranus and the Pleiades
Mars will be relatively easy to see, shining at a magnitude of 0.2. That’s easy for the naked eye. What does Uranus look like? It’s a blue-green color, which is down to the methane in its atmosphere of largely hydrogen and helium. It shines at a visual magnitude of 5.8. That’s pretty dim so you’ll likely require (any pair of) binoculars or a small telescope.
With binoculars or a small telescope, place Mars on the right-hand side of your field of view and look to the upper-left to glimpse Uranus.
How far are Mars and Uranus?
The red light you’ll see from Mars, which is 84%-lit, takes about three minutes to traverse the 130 million miles/208 million kilometers between you and it. That’s roughly the same as the Earth-Sun distance.
That blue-ish light you see from Uranus reflected off the planet almost three hours earlier to cross about two billion miles/three billion kilometers of the Solar System. That’s about 20 times the Sun-Earth distance.
See Venus, Uranus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn
Although July 31 and August 1 are the best nights to see Mars and Uranus at their closest another, they’ll be relatively close for the first week of August.
If you’re still up before dawn you’ll also be able to see Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn arc across the night sky from the east to the southwest.
See Mars, the Moon and the Pleiades
The next celestial treat comes on Friday, August 19, 2022 when a Last Quarter Moon phase will be just 2.5° from Mars and also very close to the Pleiades.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.