If skies are clear between midnight 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.
A peanut-shaped asteroid almost a mile long known as 2014 JO25 passes within 5 lunar distances of Earth on 19 April — the closest any known space rock of this size has approached our planet since September 2004. We show you how to find this fast-moving potentially hazardous asteroid in small telescopes during the UK night of 19-20 April.
Jupiter, the Solar System’s largest planet, reaches opposition on the evening of 7 April and lies closest to Earth for 2017 the following night. Don’t miss the 14-day-old Moon passing close by on the night of 10 April too. Here’s our comprehensive guide to what to see on Jupiter and phenomena of its bright moons for the month ahead.
Despite the glow of a waxing Moon, early April is a good time to catch a glimpse of comets 41P/Tuttle–Giacobini–Kresák and C/2015 V2 (Johnson) that are currently circumpolar and visible throughout the UK hours of darkness. And if you’re an early riser, there’s seventh-magnitude C/2017 E4 (Lovejoy) low in the pre-dawn eastern sky too!
Mercury attains a greatest easterly elongation of 19 degrees from the Sun on 1 April. This solar separation combined with a favourable inclination of the ecliptic to the western horizon an hour after sunset, means that the period 25 March to around 8 April offers the year’s best evening showing of the innermost planet for Northern Hemisphere observers.
Comet 41P/Tuttle–Giacobini–Kresák orbits the Sun every 5.4 years and will pass through perihelion (its closest point to the Sun) on 12 April 2017. Motoring through Ursa Major at close to 2°/day during the remainder of March, this fascinating comet with a history of dramatic surges in brightness, passes close to Messier 97 and 108 on the UK night of 22 March.
Jupiter is now less than a month from opposition (7 April), so it’s very much open season for the Solar System’s largest planet. If you’re unsure where to find it, the rising 17-day-old waning gibbous Moon passes just two degrees from Jupiter on the UK evening of 14 March. Virgo’s brightest star, first-magnitude Spica, makes it a great binocular triumvirate.
On the night of 4-5 March 2017, UK observers with clear skies can see an occultation bonanza as the 6-day-old waxing crescent Moon passes in front of prominent members of the Hyades open cluster in Taurus. Some hours later, after the Moon has set in the British Isles, first-magnitude star Aldebaran is occulted across a large swathe of North America.
Currently setting over four hours after the Sun as seen from the heart of the UK and visible in the west-southwest at dusk, dazzling Venus is about to hit peak brightness in the constellation of Pisces. The planet attains magnitude -4.8 on Friday 17 February — some 21 times the luminosity of brightest star Sirius gracing the southeast horizon as darkness falls.
Comet 45P/Honda–Mrkos–Pajdušáková passes just 0.08318 astronomical units (7.73 million miles, or ~32 lunar distances) from Earth on the morning of 11 February. Early risers can catch the magnitude +7 comet speeding through the constellations of Hercules, Corona Borealis (CrB) and Boötes at up to 9 degrees/day.