Pull out your binoculars: Neptune draws (relatively) near

Neptune reaches opposition and peak visibility September 7, but it remains an inviting object all month.
By | Published: September 7, 2018 | Last updated on May 18, 2023

Neptune appears at its best for the year in September. Although a telescope will show its tiny blue-gray disk, you won’t see the stunning detail the Voyager 2 spacecraft revealed when it flew past in 1989.

Neptune reaches opposition and peak visibility tonight.

Because it lies opposite the Sun in our sky, it rises at sunset and appears highest in the south around 1 a.m. local daylight time. But you can start searching for it by 10 p.m., when it stands nearly one-third of the way from the southeastern horizon to the zenith. 

Neptune glows at magnitude 7.8, bright enough to spot through binoculars if you know where to look. 

The trick is to find the 4th-magnitude star Phi (φ) Aquarii, which lies about 15° (two binocular fields) east-southeast of Aquarius’ distinctive Water Jar asterism. At opposition, Neptune appears 2.3° west-southwest of Phi. 

When viewed through a telescope, Neptune shows a blue-gray disk measuring 2.4″ across.