Observers in the British Isles looking due south close to 6pm GMT on Friday, 7 December will find magnitude +0.1 planet Mars about 30 degress, or a span and a half of an outstretched hand at arm’s length, above the horizon. What you won’t see unless you have binoculars or a small telescope is that magnitude +7.9 outermost planet Neptune lies just one-tenth of a degree from the Red Planet.
Now that the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is upon us and the bright summer stars and planets are slipping away to the west, why not seek out some of the spectacular double stars of the autumn sky? We show you how to find some celestial gems suitable for small to medium telescopes in the constellations of Aquarius, Aries and Andromeda.
Clear nights of early Northern Hemisphere autumn offer ideal opportunities to track down the two outermost planets of the solar system, Uranus and Neptune. What’s more, you don’t need a big telescope to find them. We show you how to locate these gas giants using binoculars. The Moon also passes close to Neptune on 20 October.
Like buses, you can wait ages for a near-Earth asteroid – then two come along in quick succession. This weekend you also have the opportunity to view a 70-metre-wide space rock known as 2018 RC in backyard telescopes of 6-inch (15-cm) aperture and larger as its hurtles past Earth closer than the Moon.
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.