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Find Neptune – tonight!

Many – perhaps even most – amateur astronomers have never seen Neptune. I suspect they haven’t even tried looking for it. They have grown up thinking it’s too far away, too faint, not worth bothering with if you haven’t got a monster telescope… but the truth is, you can track down what is now officially (after Pluto’s demotion) the most distant planet in the Solar System with just a pair of binoculars! And the good news is that at the moment, because it very close to a much, much brighter object in the night sky, Neptune is almost embarrassingly easy to find…

So, how do you find Neptune? Simple. All you have to do is find the planet JUPITER shining above the south eastern horizon after midnight, lift up your binoculars, get Jupiter in their field of view, and look for two much fainter “stars” just above it. The middle star, the brighter of the two, is the star Mu Capricorni. The top “star”, fainter, and bluer, is Neptune.

It really is that easy.

Here, these charts will help you. First of all, where is Jupiter? Well, it’s low in the SE after midnight. You can’t really miss it, to be honest, it’s just a big, bright spark of blue-white light hanging above the trees, but this chart shows you exactly where to look. Please click on it – and the ones that follow- to bring up larger versions.

neptune finder wide

Through binoculars pointed at Jupiter you’ll see this…

neptune finder1

What’s what? Well, let’s add some labels…

neptune finder2

… and that’s how you find Neptune! You just “star hop” from Jupiter, left to Mu Capricorni, then go up one, and voila, there’s Neptune! Through your binocs it won’t look anything special, just like a vaguely-blueish star, but that won’t matter, you’ll be seeing The Most Distant World In The Solar System with your own eyes, that’s the most important thing! If you have a telescope, of course, it will look more impressive – you’ll see the colour more clearly, and will be able to make out Neptune’s tiny disc too, but don’t worry if you haven’t got that kind of gear, trust me, just tracking down Neptune with your binoculars will be a real thrill.

Good luck!

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4 Responses

  1. I saw jupiter on Saturday just after midnight and it was magnificent even through binoculars. I also spotted the ISS earlier in the week and it rekindled my marvelling at the night sky.

  2. I honestly did not know you could do that. I was with the “you must need a monster telescope” crowd until just now. Thanks for the guidance!

    • I have 2 telescopes one which is a little more portable than the other but I love, most of, all lying on my back staring at the night sky on a clear night with nothing between my eyes and the sky.

  3. i have a 150mm telescope and a pair of 100mm binoculars and jupitar looks magnificent through both of them.

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