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.
Magnitude +2.9 star Mu (μ) Geminorum, better nown as Tejat in the constellation of Gemini, is occulted (hidden) by the rising 13-day-old waxing gibbous Moon early on the evening of Thursday, 9 January 2020 as seen from the entire British Isles. This is a spectacle for small telescopes and large binoculars, the first bright lunar occultation of a busy year for such events.
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.