Observing Uranus

We Bath Astronomers are rather proud of our association with William Herschel ( as can be seen from our logo!) . We feel privileged to be able to hold our observing discussions in the Herschel Museum, and to have our annual observation of Uranus using the Museum’s wonderful replica of Herschel’s discovery telescope – both by kind permission of the Museum’s Curator.

So, when we were contacted by Kevin Bailey, a very experienced planetary observer, who has been invited by the British Astronomical Association to coordinate results from systematic visual observations of Uranus, we were naturally intrigued, and discussed the idea with him.

Observing Uranus on a casual basis is not particularly difficult if you know where to look. It is on the margin of naked eye visibility, and therefore easy to see in binoculars, and a typical amateur’s telescope will reveal a small bluish dot. But that dot is only about 3.5” in diameter at opposition, as compared to Mars (14” to 25”) or Jupiter (44” to 50”). Most text books and amateur observing guides say that useful observations with amateur telescopes are not really practical, and most amateurs follow that advice.

Kevin, however, both from his own personal observations, and his researches of other observations going back to the 19th century, thinks that this advice is unduly cautious, that useful observations can be made, and while the disc generally shows only marginal differentiation, on some occasions quite marked features come into view. His difficulty is that very few observers are making the attempt at serious observations, and he is keen to encourage others to have a go. This would require a good quality amateur telescope, and preferably an experienced observer willing to apply themselves to systematic and carefully recorded visual observations of a frustratingly small object! The good news is that Uranus is gradually moving north, and thus becoming easier to observe from the UK, and will come to opposition in October when it will be about 5 degrees above the celestial equator.

A few of us decided that we would have a go at joining this effort, and with luck you will see reports of our efforts on this website in due course! But we would also welcome contact from observers who may have no connection with Bath Astronomers, but want to join in Kevin’s BAA Uranus observing project. If this appeals to you, or you would like to know more, please use our contact page, and we will put you in touch with Kevin.