We’ve all seen a hi-res illustration of what the planets of our galaxy look like up close, but what do they look like through a telescope?
Would you like to see another world with your own eyes? You probably already have! While they don’t have a futurist alien civilization, 5 of 7 points of our Solar System (those other than Earth) visible to the naked eye, appearing as bright, untwinkling insert moving objects in the night sky. These planets are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter in Saturn, the latter for having a stable yellow or Orange tint as they shine along the other stars. Uranus and Neptune can be seen with binoculars, but by far the best way to see them, save for having your own interplanetary spacecraft, is with a Telescope. These pictures will help to give you some idea of what to look for and what to expect, no photos do not convey the deeply personal, subjective experience of Visual astronomy. Those beautiful pictures of the Cosmos from space telescopes such as improve like Voyager comprising huge exposure times and post processing, dazzling depth and astonishing color; they’re immeasurably inspiring to be sure. To the eye, however, the view is quite different. Details are much subtle at the eyepiece, and your view depends on upon which telescope you’re using, and more importantly, upon how favorable the atmospheric conditions are. Don’t lose heart, though, because to see the other planets – World as real as ours – with your own eyes, is an unforgettable experience.
Telescope: Celestron NexStar 6SE
In close-up, the smallest planet in our Solar System looks strikingly similar to the dark side of our Moon, albeit almost twice as large. Unfortunately, we never get such a close-up from Earth, but large aperture instrument at high power will show Mercury’s phases at the eyepiece. Make sure the Sun has set completely before trying to observe Mercury, as it will be obscured in its glare due to its proximity. It does rotate – however a Mercurian day last 1.5 Mercurian years, about 132 days!
Telescope: Celestron Nester 6SE
Since the launch of the International Space Station, Venus is the third brightest object in the sky. Though peaceful in appearance, it is not the kind of place you would want to go on holiday, with ridiculously high pressures, clouds of sulfuric acid, and a surface temperature of 735k. Fortunately, we can enjoy its beautiful “Moon-like” phases through a telescope retracing the Landmark observations of the Galileo, which would provide strong evidence that the Planets revolve around the sun.
Telescope: Celestron CPC 800 XLT
Mars is our closest neighbor and the current home of curiosity. The red planet shows a striking color in any instrument thanks to the iron-rich soil that has literally rusted. Large apertures will review the subtle shades of the major surfaces features, such as the dark and rocky Syrtis Major Planum, and even small telescope telescopes can bring out the brilliant ice-covered polar caps. Mars looks small, though, so you will need steady skies, and unfortunately, you won’t see Curiosity either
Telescope: Orion 8946 SkyQuest XT10 Classic Dobsonian Telescope
Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system, and despite being around 11 times wider than Earth, it rotates once every 10 hours! Hurricane wings craft intricate, swirling cloud formations in its upper atmosphere. You can see these different colored layers of cloud the surround it through a reasonably powerful telescope, as well the famous Red Spot Super hurricane. Also visible are the four stunning Galilean moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede, Callisto, each larger than out own Moon. Sadly, Jupiter rings are too faint to observe though.
Telescope: Celestron C6 SCT
With the naked eye, you can mistake Mars for Saturn, however once you point a telescope at it, this changes. As almost everyone’s favorite planet – the “wow” factor of Saturn’s gorgeous rings lights up the face of many first-time planet-gazers. It’s hardly surprising! The rings gradually tilt to and fro, periodically tilts revealing the Cassini Division, as a major gap. Saturn host many moons. The largest, Titan, is clearly visible in a small telescope. Some of the cloud layers will be a touch fuzzier than Jupiter’s, as they as not as pronounced anyway.
Telescope: Meade LX1200 12″
One of the two planets in the Solar System that are not visible to the naked eye. At first believed to be a star, and later a comet, Uranus became the first planet to be discovered using a telescope, with Willian Herschel taking the credit. Uranus is known to observers for its distinct greenish hue, and clouds have been spotted on rare occasion. Its moons, while large, are not nearly large enough to be easily noticed – however, there are 27 of them.
Telescope: Meade LX1200 12″
The farthest outlying planet in the Solar System, Neptune is a remote cold world. It’s roughly the same size as Uranus. However, it’s 50% distant than its light blue cousin. Despite its size, almost four times wider than the Earth, it was not seen until 1846, and has only completed one orbit since its discovery! It’s great to see the gorgeous blue color while knowing you are looking over 4.2 billion kilometers (2.6 billion miles) away.
There are optimal times to see all seven planets as they make their way across the sky. Mercury, Mars, Saturn, and indeed Uranus are best seen in the morning sky. While Venus shows up in the evening and Jupiter at dawn. There’s not much preference to seeing Neptune other than pointing your telescope towards it.
Pluto is not on this list as it was recently, and controversially, as a dwarf planet due to the discovery of Eris. Eris is a Kuiper Belt object larger than Pluto, and would be the tenth planet if the IAU had not stepped into finally set down rules for what makes a planet. Eris and Pluto were both classified as dwarf planets after this ruling Pluto is also extremely difficult to find, and its size makes iteven harder to make out any detail- you’ll need a professional telescope to see it as any more than a faint light.
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