If skies are clear between moonset and the first glimmer of dawn this weekend, you may get to see some celestial fireworks from the Lyrid meteor shower. While it may not be the richest of the annual shooting star displays, the Lyrids can deliver a few fireballs and a portion of these medium-speed meteors can leave glowing trains.
Observers in Western Europe should try to locate Venus low in the western sky an hour after sunset. The 3-day-old slim crescent Moon acts as a convenient guide, located some 12½ degrees (or half the span of an outstretched hand at arm’s length) to the upper left of the brightest planet on 18 April. Prominent star Aldebaran lies in the same low-power binocular field of view as the Moon too.
Early risers will already be aware that there’s currently a lot of planetary activity in the morning sky, but at dawn in Western Europe on Monday, 2 April, Mars and Saturn will be just 1¼ degrees apart and seen in the same field of view of telescopes at 30x magnification. The waning Moon is close by on the mornings of 7 & 8 April too.
Jupiter, the solar system’s largest planet, is now visible low in the southeast three hours after darkness falls in the UK. Now’s the time to dust off your telescope, check its optical alignment and hone your Jovian observing skills – particularly since a series of double shadow transits of the planet’s large Galilean moons starts on 24 March 2018.
On Thursday, 22 March observers in the British Isles with clear skies can see the 5½-day-old setting crescent Moon pass in front of first-magnitude star Aldebaran in the constellation of Taurus soon after 11:30pm GMT. Depending on where you live in the UK, you might just see the star reappear again shortly before the pair set.
Mercury attains a greatest easterly elongation of 18 degrees from the Sun on 15 March, the innermost planet’s best evening showing for Northern Hemisphere observers for the entire year. From 12–20 March, planets Mercury and Venus remain just 4 degrees apart low in the west 45 minutes after sunset as seen from the British Isles.
Possibly as large as The Shard in London, Apollo asteroid 2017 VR12 passes just 3¾ lunar distances from Earth at 7:53am GMT on 7 March. For a few nights, this magnitude +12 space rock is a viable target for small backyard telescopes as it gallops through Coma Berenices and Virgo, passing just 0.8 degrees from Spica on the UK night of 7–8 March.
As darkness falls over Western Europe on the evening of 9 February, near-Earth asteroid 2018 CB lies almost overhead as seen from the UK. We show you how and when to find this 30-metre-wide space rock as it speeds through the constellations of Perseus and Triangulum, passing just one-fifth of the Moon’s distance away at 22:27 UT (10:27pm GMT).
Set your alarm for 6am GMT if you wish to see three naked-eye planets in the UK dawn sky this week. Find a location that offers an unobstructed view of the horizon from southeast to south and let the waning Moon be your guide to locating Jupiter, Mars and Saturn on successive mornings from 7 to 11 February.