At 6:42am BST on Thursday, 12 October our best orbit prediction for a 20-metre-wide space rock designated 2012 TC4 indicates that it will hurtle by Earth just 43,800 kilometres (27,215 miles) above the ocean between Australia and Antarctica. If UK skies are clear on 11 October and you have an 8-inch or larger telescope, you might just see it too.
Thursday 12 January brings not only a full Moon, but also finds brightest planet Venus at its greatest easterly elongation from the Sun. By the time darkness falls in Western Europe and the UK, Venus also lies just 0.4 degrees from outermost planet Neptune, while Mars lies less than the span of a fist at arm’s length to their upper left.
The young crescent Moon’s nightly motion from 31 December 2016 to 3 January 2017 carries it past dazzling planet Venus and first-magnitude Mars. A small telescope also reveals outermost planet Neptune, which passes just 0.02 degrees from Mars around 7h UT on 1 January, offering observers around the world a New Year’s Day treat.
The penultimate 2016 occultation of Neptune by the Moon occurs on 9 November for observers in Western Asia, Eastern Europe and northernmost Africa. In Western Europe, the nine-day-old waxing gibbous Moon merely brushes by the outermost planet, but the pair will be close enough to be seen within the same field of view of a typical binocular from the UK.
Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have conducted the first search for atmospheres around temperate, Earth-sized planets beyond our solar system. They found indications that increase the chances of habitability on two exoplanets known as TRAPPIST-1b and TRAPPIST-1c orbiting a red dwarf star approximately 40 light-years away.
More than 100 confirmed exoplanets — the biggest haul of worlds uncovered by the stabilised and repurposed Kepler space telescope in its K2 mission — is reported by an international science team led by the University of Arizona. Excitingly, the new population includes many worlds that could be rocky and cool enough to potentially support life.
Outermost planet Neptune reaches opposition on 2 September 2016, this year marking the 170th anniversary of the gas giant’s discovery. But you don’t have to wait six week to observe the farthest known planet of the solar system, because the waning gibbous Moon drops close by in the small hours of Saturday, 23 July as seen from the British Isles.
Astronomers have discovered three planets orbiting an ultra-cool dwarf star just 40 light-years from Earth. These worlds have sizes and temperatures similar to those of Venus and Earth and are the best targets found so far for the search for life outside the solar system. They are the first planets ever discovered around such a tiny and dim star.
Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) have discovered a nest of colossal baby galaxies 11.5 billion light-years away. The young galaxies seem to reside at the junction of gigantic filaments in a web of dark matter. These findings are important for understanding how enormous galaxies like these are formed and how they evolve into huge elliptical galaxies.