Owls may be scarce near your favourite viewing spot, but the Northern Hemisphere spring sky contains one celestial owl that you can track down in small telescopes – Messier 97 (NGC 3587). Commonly called the Owl Nebula, M97 is a planetary nebula discovered by Pierre Méchain in 1781 that is currently ideally placed for observation almost overhead at nightfall in the constellation of Ursa Major, the Great Bear.
Mercury attains a very favourable western elongation of almost 28 degrees from the Sun on 11 April, which means that the innermost planet is a morning object in the eastern sky before sunrise. Antipodean skywatchers are in the enviable position of being able to see Mercury and Venus close together for several mornings in a dark sky before the onset of astronomical twilight.
For ten nights starting 5 April 2019, asteroid 2 Pallas and unmistakable Arcturus – the northern celestial hemisphere’s brightest star – lie within the same field of view of typical 8× binoculars. Also, don’t miss magnitude +7.9 Pallas’s very close conjunction with magnitude +2.7 star eta (η) Boötis at 22h UT (11pm BST) on the night of 10 April.
On 31 March at 4am BST, Mars passes just 3.1 degrees south of the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters open star cluster in the constellation of Taurus. The Red Planet sets before midnight as seen from the UK, so you should look to the west as darkness falls. Mars and the Pleiades lie within the same field of view of typical 10×50 binoculars from 28 March through 1 April 2019.
For lunar and planetary enthusiasts, the only naked-eye planet of the evening sky is distant and tiny Mars in the constellation of Taurus. But if you’re prepared to be an early riser, the dawn sky is where you’ll find two of the solar system’s heavyweights, Jupiter and Saturn, getting up close with the Moon on 27 and 29 March, respectively.
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.