It's Hard to Top Uranus

The biggest picture of Uranus I’ve ever seen…  By NASA/JPL-Caltech - (image link) (image link), Public Domain,

The biggest picture of Uranus I’ve ever seen…

By NASA/JPL-Caltech - (image link) (image link), Public Domain,

A coworker brought up today a particularly fun lede I wrote for some conference coverage (Three economists, two lawyers and an electrical engineer walk into a bar… ). It reminded me of my all-time favorite lede I’ve ever written about the upcoming public-access schedule at a local planetarium.

Rote reporting on somewhat routine fare can be soul-crushing for journalists who see themselves as worthy of weightier assignments, but I often find it’s a chance to have fun with the format while not short-shrifting the subject. With far less editorial oversight and time needed to organize the article, the opportunities to amuse oneself are endless (bonus points for those who notice the Hamlet reference)…

Observatory offers view of Uranus

First Posted: 8/31/2007

Having trouble seeing Uranus? Get thee to the observatory.
Even on a clear night with decent equipment, it’s pretty hard to see Uranus, according to Thomas Winter, a professor at Penn State Wilkes-Barre in Lehman Township. The blue-green planet seventh in line from the sun is actually larger than Earth, but its distance and the fact that it usually hangs low on the horizon make it sometimes hard to distinguish from other points of light.
Every year, though, the sun, Earth and Uranus line up. It’s called “opposition,” and it’s much like the arrangement during a lunar eclipse, only Uranus is the moon and much farther away. The celestial gas giant at opposition hangs higher in the sky and is as close as it gets to Earth, Winter said.
With an off-the-shelf telescope, “you’ll be able to look at it as a little round thing as opposed to another point of light,” he said.
To get an even better view of Uranus, the university’s Friedman Observatory is inviting the public to take a look through its 16-inch telescope, the largest one in the region. The observatory is open from 9 to about 11 on Monday nights.
”The interesting thing about Uranus is that you’re getting to something that really would require a fairly sophisticated instrument to do it justice,” Winter said. “It’s still going to be pretty dim, but we have enough magnification that we can blow it up so it will look like a circle. It won’t look like a star.”
Stars are too far away to ever look like a circle, no matter how magnified they are, Winter said. The observatory’s telescope magnifies images about 100 times, which is enough to bring Uranus into focus and might be enough to pick out “the now demoted planet of Pluto,” he said.
”We think we can find it. We just haven’t gotten around to looking for it,” he said.
But that’s an assignment for when Uranus goes away. Over the next few weeks while Uranus reaches and leaves opposition, John Rovnak, an amateur astronomer and the observatory’s acting director, will be featuring it during the Monday-evening sessions.
On overcast nights, however, the observatory might not be open. Winter suggested calling his office at 675-9278 before 5 p.m. to check.

Rory Sweeney, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 970-7418.

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