News

Europe’s ExoMars spacecraft begins lowering its orbit

20 March 2017 Stephen Clark

The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, a Russian-launched, European-built spacecraft that arrived at Mars in October, is starting to dip into the upper reaches of the red planet’s atmosphere in a year-long “aerobraking” campaign place the observatory in the right position to hunt for methane, an indicator of potential biological activity.

Observing

Don’t miss brightening Comet 41P riding high in Ursa Major during March

17 March 2017 Ade Ashford

Comet 41P/Tuttle–Giacobini–Kresák orbits the Sun every 5.4 years and will pass through perihelion (its closest point to the Sun) on 12 April 2017. Motoring through Ursa Major at close to 2°/day during the remainder of March, this fascinating comet with a history of dramatic surges in brightness, passes close to Messier 97 and 108 on the UK night of 22 March.

Observing

See the Moon and largest planet Jupiter get close on 14 March

12 March 2017 Ade Ashford

Jupiter is now less than a month from opposition (7 April), so it’s very much open season for the Solar System’s largest planet. If you’re unsure where to find it, the rising 17-day-old waning gibbous Moon passes just two degrees from Jupiter on the UK evening of 14 March. Virgo’s brightest star, first-magnitude Spica, makes it a great binocular triumvirate.

News

Saturn’s peculiar moon Pan pictured

11 March 2017 Astronomy Now

The Cassini probe has revealed Saturn’s inner-most moon Pan in all its peculiar glory. The spacecraft took the highest resolution images yet of the extraordinary, ravioli-shaped moon on 7 March 2017 from a distance of 24,572 kilometres (15,268 miles).

News

Hubble dates black hole’s last big meal

9 March 2017 Stephen Clark

For the supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy, it’s been a long time between dinners. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has found that the black hole ate its last big meal about 6 million years ago, when it consumed a large clump of infalling gas.

News

Ancient stardust sheds light on the first stars

9 March 2017 Stephen Clark

Astronomers have used ALMA to detect a huge mass of glowing stardust in a galaxy seen when the Universe was only four percent of its present age. This galaxy was observed shortly after its formation and is the most distant galaxy in which dust has been detected.

Picture This

Voyager 1 sees Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

5 March 2017 Astronomy Now

On 5 March 1979, Voyager 1 made its closest approach to Jupiter, passing at a distance of about 349,000 kilometres (217,000 miles) from the planet’s centre. It captured this close-up view of the swirling clouds around Jupiter’s Great Red Spot in February as it approached the gas giant.