The Geminids of 8—17 December are widely regarded as the most active and consistent annual meteor shower, with peak predicted rates of 100 shooting stars per hour under dark skies. With new Moon occurring on Friday, 11 December, prospects for this year’s Geminid display are therefore expected to be very favourable — UK weather permitting!
Comet Catalina (C/2013 US10) is currently a morning object in Virgo low in the southeast before dawn twilight for UK observers. The comet has a photogenic close encounter with Venus and the waning crescent Moon on the mornings of 7—8 December, then rapidly heads north through the constellation Boötes for a closer brush with Arcturus on New Year’s Day.
In the dawn twilight of Friday, 4 December observers in the British Isles and Western Europe can see the 23-day-old waning crescent Moon just 2.5 degrees (half a 10×50 binocular field of view) below largest planet Jupiter in the constellation Leo high in the southern sky. And if you have a telescope, Jupiter’s largest moon plays hide and seek.
Early risers in the northeast of England and Scotland with clear skies can see naked-eye star lambda (λ) Geminorum, otherwise known as Alkibash, slip behind the southern polar regions of an 18-day-old waning gibbous Moon close to 5am GMT on Sunday, 29 November. However, for a select number of northern observers this will be a special grazing lunar occultation.
Have you ever seen planet Uranus? If UK skies are clear on the evening of Sunday, 22 November, the icy gas giant lies just 1.5 degrees (or three lunar diameters) from the 11-day-old waxing gibbous Moon, making it very easy to locate in binoculars and small telescopes. Here’s our online guide to locating this fascinating distant world.
The terrestrial fireworks of recent Bonfire Night(s) celebrations in the UK have masked a rather unusual display of natural illuminations, as we are in the midst of the Taurid meteor showers. However, this year’s display of celestial fireworks not only occurs near a new Moon for dark skies, but the double-peaked shower is currently showing signs of unusually high activity similar to the fireball-rich display of 2005.
If you have a clear sky to the southeast an hour before sunrise on the morning of Friday, 6 November you will be greeted by a pairing of the old, waning crescent Moon with largest planet Jupiter. Then, on Saturday, 7 November, a slimmer crescent Moon joins planets Mars and Venus for an even closer triple conjunction. Have your binoculars and cameras ready!
On Thursday, 29 October, observers in the British Isles with clear skies and armed with binoculars or small telescopes can see the waning gibbous 17-day-old Moon occult first-magnitude star Aldebaran, the ‘Eye of the Bull’ in the constellation Taurus. The star slips behind the Moon soon after 9:45pm GMT and reappears at the darkened lunar hemisphere about an hour later.
In the remaining days of October and early into November, a fascinating series of planetary peregrinations plays out low in the East before dawn twilight gets too bright. Venus, like a sprinter on the inside lane of a running track, overtakes both Jupiter in Mars in two readily observable conjunctions set against the stellar backdrop of constellations Leo and Virgo.