The innermost planet’s best evening showing of the year for northern observers occurs during the fortnight starting 20 February. Skywatchers will get optimal views by sourcing a location that offers an unobstructed view of the horizon from west-southwest through west at the end of civil twilight, which is about 40 minutes after sunset for the heart of the British Isles.
The Whirlpool Galaxy, also known as M51, is familiar to legions of amateur astronomers as a relatively faint face-on spiral with a smaller companion galaxy, but the Hubble Space Telescope reveals the Whirlpool in all its splendour, a magnificent spiral studded with countless clusters and dust lanes.
If skies are clear at dusk in Western Europe and the UK on Tuesday, 19 February, be sure to glance up at the full Moon in the constellation of Leo. If the lunar orb seems a bit larger than usual then you’d be right, for this is the closest full Moon of 2019. Since it occurs just 6¾ hours after lunar perigee, it’s also a supermoon. And if it’s cloudy, you can watch online!
Grab your binoculars to catch a glimpse of speedy Comet C/2018 Y1 Iwamoto over the coming week before the glare from a full Moon on 19 February drowns it out. Potentially attaining magnitude +6, the comet passes closest to Earth on 12 February when it can be found traversing Leo at a rate of 7.2 degrees/day. Don’t miss C/2018 Y1’s close enounter with galaxy NGC 2903 on 13 February – by eye, camera, or live online.