For an early astronomical treat to usher in the New Year, seek out the natural pyrotechnics of the rich Quadrantid meteor shower. Peak shooting star activity occurs within a four-hour window centred on a prediction of 8am GMT on 4 January 2020 – a time that favours UK skywatchers at astronomical dawn, or North American observers around local midnight.
The instantly recognisable five-star M-shaped pattern of stars representing the constellation Cassiopeia (pronounced kas-ee-uh-pee-uh) lies almost overhead in the early evening as seen from the British Isles over the festive period. Cassiopeia is rich in wonderful double and multiple stars, so here’s our guide to some of the best for typical backyard telescopes.
The December Geminid meteor shower is generally regarded as the richest and most reliable of the major annual shooting star displays. This year the predicted peak occurs between 2h and 23h UT (2am to 11pm GMT) on Saturday the 14th, but its bright and slow-moving shooting stars will have to contend with the glare of a nearby Moon just two days after full.
Innermost planet Mercury puts on its best morning display of the year for Northern Hemisphere observers from late November to early December. Skywatchers in the British Isles should find a location offering an unobstructed view of the southeast horizon about 45 minutes before sunrise to get the best views, with the Red Planet and star Spica – the brightest in Virgo – also nearby.
The maximum of the annual Leonid meteor shower is predicted for 11pm GMT (23h UT) on Monday, 18 November 2019. However, the famously swift, bright Leonids — some leaving persistent trails — will have to contend with the glare of a 21-day-old waning gibbous Moon close by visible from 9:30pm GMT to dawn on the 19th.
Lucky observers with clear skies who also happen to live on a line drawn between Porthcawl on the Welsh coast through just south of Birmingham and on to the Lincolnshire Wolds can witness a grazing lunar occultation of naked-eye star Eta (η) Geminorum by the rising 18-day-old waning gibbous Moon just before 10pm GMT on 15 November 2019.
On Monday, 11 November 2019 just after 12:30pm GMT, suitably equipped observers in the British Isles can witness the start of a 3.7-hour spectacle that hasn’t been seen for three-and-a-half years — the silhouette of innermost planet Mercury crossing the face of the Sun. Here’s our online guide to observing this fascinating and comparatively rare event in complete safety.
Have you ever seen Uranus with the naked eye? If not, moonless nights in late October and November offer ideal conditions to test your visual acuity and sky clarity. Uranus reaches opposition in the constellation of Aries on 28 October 2019 and lies 48° above the southern horizon at midnight as seen from the heart of the British Isles. Here is our guide to tracking down the seventh planet from the Sun.
Their high detection rate reveals that near-Earth asteroids are commonplace, but they’re typically small, fleetingly observable and very faint. Hence an opportunity to view a large example bright enough to see in a typical backyard telescope shouldn’t be missed! Here’s our guide to tracking down 700-metre-wide 1998 HL1 between 25 and 29 October 2019.
When a nearby astronomical body passes between the observer and a more distant object, see say that an occultation is taking place. Since the Moon is our nearest celestial neighbour, it regularly passes in front of planets and stars. Observers in the British Isles can see naked-eye star Zeta (ζ) Tauri glide behind the Moon on Saturday, 19 October 2019.