Plumb the hidden depths of spring’s deep-sky by seeking out 3C 273, the optically-brightest quasi-stellar object (QSO) in the constellation of Virgo. Quasars are the intensely luminous centres of very distant and active galaxies, powered by a supermassive black hole. And don’t worry that you need a huge ‘scope to see it – a 15-cm (6-inch) instrument and a clear, moonless night are all you need.
On Saturday, 2 March 2019, observers in Western Europe should seek a location offering a level and unobstructed southeastern view at civil dawn (some 36 minutes before sunrise in the heart of the UK) to have a chance of seeing the 25-day-old waning crescent Moon between Venus in Capricornus and Saturn in Sagittarius with the unaided eye.
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.
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.
Have you ever seen planet Uranus? If skies are clear in the UK and Western Europe on the evening of Sunday, 10 February, see this icy gas giant less than 2 degrees (or four lunar diameters) from Mars and 6 degrees from the 5-day-old crescent Moon. In fact, you’ll see all three in a single view of wide-angle binoculars like 7×50s.
Have you ever seen the International Space Station (ISS)? It’s capable of exceeding Venus at its brightest and visible for up to 7 minutes as it crawls across the sky in an arc from west to east. Find out when and where to see some favourable passes of this 450-tonne, 109-metre-long spacecraft over the British Isles and Western Europe this week.
Skywatchers in the UK and Western Europe should look low to the south-southeast an hour before sunrise on 31 January to see a beautiful naked-eye conjunction of Venus, the old crescent Moon and Jupiter, all within a span of 8½ degrees. But if you have a telescope and live in just the right place, you can also see the Moon hide a double star.
While you may not relish the prospect of waking up in the small hours most Monday mornings, observers in the British Isles and Western Europe will want to set their alarms no later than 5am GMT on 21 January to see this month’s showstopper celestial event — a total lunar eclipse of an unusually close ‘supermoon’. The total lunar eclipse is also visible in its entirety (weather permitting) from the Americas.