Currently setting over four hours after the Sun as seen from the heart of the UK and visible in the west-southwest at dusk, dazzling Venus is about to hit peak brightness in the constellation of Pisces. The planet attains magnitude -4.8 on Friday 17 February — some 21 times the luminosity of brightest star Sirius gracing the southeast horizon as darkness falls.
Comet 45P/Honda–Mrkos–Pajdušáková passes just 0.08318 astronomical units (7.73 million miles, or ~32 lunar distances) from Earth on the morning of 11 February. Early risers can catch the magnitude +7 comet speeding through the constellations of Hercules, Corona Borealis (CrB) and Boötes at up to 9 degrees/day.
Dazzling Venus and much fainter Mars have a close encounter with a young Moon in the constellation of Pisces at UK dusk on Tuesday 31 January. The trio form an equilateral triangle small enough to be encompassed by the field of view of a 7x binocular low in the west-southwest for a couple of hours from 7pm GMT.
Before sunrise on Thursday 19 January, observers in Western Europe can see an interesting celestial conjunction in the southern sky. At about 6am local time, the waning gibbous Moon, largest planet Jupiter and Spica — the brightest star in the constellation of Virgo — all lie in a line encompassed by the field of view of a typical 7x or 8x binocular.
On Wednesday 18 January, brightest asteroid 4 Vesta comes to opposition in the constellation of Cancer bordering on Gemini, ideally placed for observation by Northern Hemisphere skywatchers. While the truly eagle-eyed among you might glimpse it with the unaided eye on dark, moonless nights, Vesta is an easy binocular object.
Thursday 12 January brings not only a full Moon, but also finds brightest planet Venus at its greatest easterly elongation from the Sun. By the time darkness falls in Western Europe and the UK, Venus also lies just 0.4 degrees from outermost planet Neptune, while Mars lies less than the span of a fist at arm’s length to their upper left.
It’s time to direct your attention skyward for some celestial pyrotechnics from the first major annual meteor shower — the Quadrantids. The short-lived peak of this active shower is predicted to occur at 2pm GMT on 3 January, favouring observers in the west of North America, but most Northern Hemisphere observers with clear skies will still see some shooting stars.
The young crescent Moon’s nightly motion from 31 December 2016 to 3 January 2017 carries it past dazzling planet Venus and first-magnitude Mars. A small telescope also reveals outermost planet Neptune, which passes just 0.02 degrees from Mars around 7h UT on 1 January, offering observers around the world a New Year’s Day treat.
On the night of 12-13 December, the waxing gibbous Moon glides in front of the loose open star cluster known as the Hyades in the constellation of Taurus, culminating in the occultation of bright star Aldebaran around 5:24am GMT for observers in the British Isles. In North America, the event occurs at a more sociable hour late into the evening of 12 December.