Comet C/2019 Y4 was discovered by the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) on 28 December last year and brightened 6000-fold in just two months to attain magnitude +7.5 on 1 April. Alas, the comet’s nucleus has now fragmented, dashing hopes for a conspicuous naked-eye spectacle in the constellation of Perseus. Here’s our telescopic observing guide.
As April 2020 opens, dazzling Venus at dusk is drawing ever closer to the magnificent Pleiades (Seven Sisters) in the constellation of Taurus. The brightest planet makes its closest approach to this famous open star cluster on the UK night of 3 April, when typical 10×50 binoculars and small telescopes will deliver memorable views around 9pm BST.
On Sunday, 29 March around civil dusk, observers throughout the British Isles with suitably steadied binoculars and small telescopes can watch naked-eye star Epsilon (ε) Tauri disappear behind the darkened hemisphere of the almost 5-day-old waxing crescent Moon, reappearing again slightly more than an hour later. Here’s our where and when guide to viewing it.
If you’re an early riser in the British Isles, let the waning crescent Moon be your guide to three naked-eye planets – Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – at dawn on 18 and 19 March 2020. This celestial conjunction occurs in the constellation of Sagittarius where you can see all four Solar System bodies within the span of a fist at arm’s length. Look for attractive binocular conjunctions too.
Dazzling planet Venus continues to be a useful celestial signpost to other planets at dusk. Having already showcased Neptune and Mercury this year, the brightest planet has a close conjunction with Uranus on the UK evening of Sunday, 8 March. The pair lie just 2.2 degrees apart against the constellation backdrop of Aries, simultaneously visible in typical 10×50 binoculars.
For three evenings from 26–28 February 2020, observers in Western Europe including the British Isles can watch the waxing crescent Moon’s changing configuration with brightest planet Venus in the west-southwest at dusk. The pair are closest for UK-based observers on the evening of Thursday, 27 February, simultaneously visible in low-power binoculars.
Mercury is poised to put on a fine evening show for Northern Hemisphere observers at dusk, attaining a greatest elongation 18.2 degrees east of the Sun on Monday, 10 February 2020. For ten evenings starting 3 February, the innermost planet and its brightest sibling, Venus, maintain an almost constant angular separation low in the west-southwest 40 minutes after UK sunset.
Even casual skywatchers cannot fail to notice brightest planet Venus currently hanging like a lantern above the southwest horizon at dusk. But as Venus moves eastwards through Aquarius on successive nights, it draws closer to outermost (and faintest) planet Neptune until the pair reach a particularly close conjunction on the UK evening of Monday, 27 January.