Venus And Uranus Go Bump In The Dawn

Venus and Uranus will be just a little more than a degree and a half apart (1° 42′ to be exact where 60′ = 1°) tomorrow morning and remain near each other for the next few mornings. Use binoculars to see Uranus to the upper left of Venus. The magnitude +4 star in the same binocular field of view with the planets is called Tocularis Septentrionalis and translates to “Northern Thread” — a reference to the cord connecting the two fish at either end of the constellation Pisces the Fish. Created with Stellarium

Tomorrow morning, you can see see the hottest planet in the solar system pair up in conjunction with the coldest. That would be Venus, with a surface temperature of 864°F (462°C), and remote Uranus with cloud tops chillin’ at –357°F (–216°C). Venus is the most brilliant planet and easy to spot if you have a clear view to the east. To find Uranus, which is only 10,000 times fainter than Venus, you’ll need a pair of binoculars. 7x35s or 10x50s should work nicely.

These three panels show the dance of Venus and Uranus the next couple mornings for a viewer facing east about an hour and 15 minutes before sunrise. Separations are shown beneath the dates. They’ll be closest on June 3rd. Look 10° north of the duo for the 8th-magnitude Comet PanSTARRS (C/2015 ER61) as it swings past the 6th-magnitude star 75 Piscium. The several small stars around Venus are all about magnitude +6.5, a little fainter than Uranus. Created with Stellarium

Venus will look like a big, glowing “star” and Uranus a pinpoint through your glass. The two are not only far apart in temperature, but also in distance. Venus will be 64.9 million miles from Earth tomorrow morning and Uranus 1.9 billion miles or 29 times more distant. In the same field of view, you’ll also see the star Omicron Piscium also know by its tongue-toppling name Latin name of Tocularis Septentrionalis.

Uranus is just entering the morning sky headed west just as Venus is about to turn around and begin moving back east. Each meets the other for a weekend sleepover, so if it’s cloudy tomorrow, they’ll still be a close duo for a couple more mornings.

Venus at dawn over Lake Superior earlier this week. Credit: Bob King

The best time for viewing depends on your latitude. In the central and southern U.S., where the sun rises later and twilights are shorter, you can start watching up to 1½ hours before sunrise when Venus will about 12° high in a relatively dark sky. If you live in the northern U.S. or Europe, you won’t get a good view until about 75 minutes before sunrise and the sky will be brighter. Click here to find when the sun rises for your town.

Joining the planetary duo will be the comet C/2015 ER61 PanSTARRS. It’s fairly bright at magnitude +8 and would otherwise be visible in binoculars, but its low altitude makes it better suited for telescopic viewing. A 6-inch should be adequate for a look.

Now that it’s June, we’re coming into the shortest nights of the year. You’ll really get in touch with that fact if you rise early to see this unique conjunction.