As shooting-star devotees prepare for the naked-eye spectacle of the Geminid meteor shower in mid-December, owners of small telescopes can also witness the close passage of the meteors’ parent body — a curious “rock comet” known as 3200 Phaethon, galloping through the constellations of Auriga, Perseus, Andromeda, Pisces and Pegasus at a rate of up to 15 degrees/day.
The maximum of the annual Leonid meteor shower, predicted to occur around nightfall on Friday, 17 November for observers in Western Europe and the UK, favourably coincides with a new Moon this year. However, observers in the British Isles may have to wait until around midnight to see about ten of the famously swift, bright Leonids per hour.
At the beginning of civil twilight on Monday, 13 November, observers in Western Europe and the British Isles should seek out a viewing location offering an unobstructed view very low to the southeast horizon to see brightest planet Venus and largest planet Jupiter separated by little more than half the width of a full Moon.
Many will be looking skyward to see terrestrial pyrotechnics this Bonfire Night, but if you own a small telescope and can escape the light pollution, you can see the waning gibbous Moon hide three naked-eye stars in Taurus on the night of 5—6 November, culminating in first-magnitude star Aldebaran in the small hours of Monday morning.
If skies are clear between midnight and the first glimmer of dawn this weekend, you may get to see up to 20 celestial fireworks per hour from the Orionid meteor shower. While far from the richest of the annual shooting star displays, the Orionids are particularly swift and have their genesis in particles strewn along the orbit of Comet Halley.
Observers in the British Isles and Western Europe should look low to the east about an hour before sunrise on Wednesday, 18 October to see the slim crescent of a very old Moon close to the brightest planet, Venus. Mars is also nearby for the keen-eyed among you, but don’t leave it too late or the growing twilight will drown out the Red Planet.
At 6:42am BST on Thursday, 12 October our best orbit prediction for a 20-metre-wide space rock designated 2012 TC4 indicates that it will hurtle by Earth just 43,800 kilometres (27,215 miles) above the ocean between Australia and Antarctica. If UK skies are clear on 11 October and you have an 8-inch or larger telescope, you might just see it too.
Urban dwellers may resign themselves to spotting the Moon, planets and the brightest stars with the unaided eye on a clear night, but every so often a bright satellite will catch your attention as it glides silently across the sky. The brightest is the 400-tonne International Space Station (ISS) whose orbit carries it directly overhead as seen from the British Isles and parts of Western Europe tonight.
The diminutive yet distinctive constellation of Lyra is home to dazzling star Vega, the Ring Nebula (M57) and the celebrated double-double star epsilon (ε) Lyrae. But did you know that Lyra harbours yet another ‘pair of pairs’ that are somewhat easier to resolve in smaller telescopes? Ade Ashford shows you how to locate the beautiful Struve Σ2470 and Σ2474.
A waxing crescent Moon hanging low above the horizon in evening twilight is always a pleasant sight to behold, but observers in the UK watching the 4-day-old Moon through a telescope around 40 minutes after sunset on Sunday, 24 September have an additional treat in store in the form of an occultation of naked-eye star gamma (γ) Librae.