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Night Sky News: Hunt Down Neptune

This past week marked the first trip around the Sun for Neptune since its discovery 165 years ago. The eighth and most distant major planet in the solar system Neptune has remained a great mystery to this day. Most of what we know of this gas giant is thanks to NASA’s Voyager 2 probe flyby in 1989. Since then however the best views have come from the Hubble Space Telescope.

For Earthbound skywatchers it also is quite a challenge to hunt down in a nightful of stars. Neptune is best visible through a small telescope, but can be glimpsed with binoculars from a dark countryside.  Because it lies 4.5 billion km away from the Sun, it looks like a tiny bluish tinged disk amongst the pinpoint stars in the sky. Over the next few days skywatcher get a chance to use the Moon as a convenient guidepost in locating Neptune as it glides past the planet.