News

Future of asteroid deflection mission to be decided soon

20 January 2017 Stephen Clark

Decisions on the future of a joint robotic mission between NASA and the European Space Agency to demonstrate the ability to deflect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth have been put off until later this year after European governments declined to fully fund their part of the project in December.

Observing

The Moon, Jupiter and star Spica line up at dawn on 19 January

18 January 2017 Ade Ashford

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.

Observing

See brightest asteroid Vesta at its best

17 January 2017 Ade Ashford

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.

News

ALMA starts observing the Sun

17 January 2017 Stephen Clark

New images taken with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array in Chile have revealed otherwise invisible details of our Sun, including a new view of the dark, contorted centre of a sunspot that is nearly twice the diameter of the Earth.

News

Skywatchers: Get your Iridium flare fix now

16 January 2017 Stephen Clark

The launch of the first batch of new-generation Iridium communications satellites Saturday marked the beginning of the end for the predictable, spectacular flares of reflected sunlight produced by the old-design craft, a favorite of amateur skywatchers for nearly two decades.

News

Two asteroid missions get nod from NASA

11 January 2017 Stephen Clark

NASA has selected two robotic missions to visit asteroids in the early 2020s from a field of proposed interplanetary probes, approving projects to explore a metallic relic from the early solar system and a half-dozen so-called Trojan objects left over from the formation of the outer planets.

Observing

See Venus farthest from the Sun, in conjunction with Neptune on 12 January

10 January 2017 Ade Ashford

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.