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PLUTO AT OPPOSITION - July 11, 2017

by
P. Clay Sherrod

There is a lot going on in the sky for the next few months - the Perseid Meteors and certainly the total solar eclipse across the United States.  But lest we forget, our most distant planet, Pluto, comes to opposition on July 11 around midnight, when it will be on the opposite side of the sky relative to Earth from the Sun.

Now, before you start the debate as to whether I was wrong in describing Pluto as a "planet", trust me it IS a planet by nearly all criteria:  it orbits the sun in a closed, unchangingn oribt; it is a larger spherical body; and it is not dependent on any other planet for its orbital parameters and description.  Nonetheless, some "authorities" have demoted this distant world to "Minor Planet" status and given it the disparaging number designation of "134340".

Pluto Photo by NASA

On July 11, Pluto will be magnitude 14.8, easy to photograph as a spec of light in most amateur telescopes via CCD imagers or DSLR cameras.  However, it can be seen visually only in a 12-inch or larger telescope under very good conditions.  Presently Pluto is located in Sagittarius, very low (-21 deg declination) in southern skies for northern hemisphere viewers.  But if you want an opportunity to see this distant world, opposition is the time to do it.

Following is a naked eye sky chart showing where Pluto presently is located near the "Teapot" in Sagittarius; once you have honed in on that location, then use the larger (blue) chart to find the planet among stars seen in any telescope.  In the high power chart, NORTH is up and EAST to the left and the field of view is about 10 arc minutes, about that of a medium-high eyepiece in the telescope, or an average CCD chip view.

Pluto Sagittarius astronomynow  Adapted, astronomynow.com

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The celestial coordinates of Pluto at opposition are:  RA 18h 17m 03s ;  DEC -21d 28m 50s (at 05:00 UT).  The planet is moving very slowly eastward and during the next two days, it will be embedded within the very close proximity of the two bright stars shown in the chart below:  (star magnitudes are given in black - "1106" = mag. 11.06)

Pluto chart   Adapted from GUIDE, Project Pluto

So, be the FIRST in your neighborhood to brag about seeing the planet Pluto, the most distant world in our solar system.  At a distance of 4.7 billion miles, you are looking at the only planet ever discovered from American soil, this by Clyde Tombaugh on February 18, 1930.

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