16 July 2011

One Year on Neptune

We passed a landmark moment this month, the one-year anniversary of the discovery of the Blue Planet, Neptune -- one Neptunian-year, that is, which is 165 of our Earth-years. This gem of a planet is something that an urban astronomer has to work a bit harder to see, but once spotted it is a lovely blue point of light in the sky, a fine payoff for those with the persistence to track it down against the backdrop of stars in the heavens.

During its long trek around the Solar System, Neptune has periodic close encounters with other planets, as it did during the "Triple Conjunction of 2009" with Jupiter. However, this year it stands alone in the constellation Aquarius, more challenging to find because we don't get Jupiter as a beacon leading us to find the elusive blue planet. However, using this star chart, a pair of binoculars, a dark backyard location, and some patience, I am sure you can find it. I will be looking from time to time over the coming months as Neptune moves from the morning sky into the evening sky, scanning for its dim blue glow in the vastness of the night sky.

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