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.
If you’re bemoaning the current dearth of bright planets in the evening sky, or light pollution prevents you from viewing a multitude of spring galaxies, don’t give up – there are always attractively coloured double and multiple stars to view. Join us on a tour of the Northern Hemisphere constellation of Boötes (pronounced Bo-oh-tees), the Herdsman, easily located due to its brightest star, Arcturus.
For ten nights starting 5 April 2019, asteroid 2 Pallas and unmistakable Arcturus – the northern celestial hemisphere’s brightest star – lie within the same field of view of typical 8× binoculars. Also, don’t miss magnitude +7.9 Pallas’s very close conjunction with magnitude +2.7 star eta (η) Boötis at 22h UT (11pm BST) on the night of 10 April.
Hot on the heels of terrestrial fireworks ushering in the New Year, it’s time for some celestial pyrotechnics from the Quadrantid meteor shower – the year’s first major display of shooting stars – on 4 January. With an old waning crescent Moon not rising until nautical dawn in the UK, dark skies could see up to 80 meteors per hour around 2am GMT.
Urban dwellers may resign themselves to spotting the Moon, planets and the brightest stars with the unaided eye on a clear night, but every so often a bright satellite will catch your attention as it glides silently across the sky. The brightest is the 400-tonne International Space Station (ISS) whose orbit carries it directly overhead as seen from the British Isles and parts of Western Europe tonight.
Comet 45P/Honda–Mrkos–Pajdušáková passes just 0.08318 astronomical units (7.73 million miles, or ~32 lunar distances) from Earth on the morning of 11 February. Early risers can catch the magnitude +7 comet speeding through the constellations of Hercules, Corona Borealis (CrB) and Boötes at up to 9 degrees/day.
If you chance upon a bright ‘star’ crawling across the sky in an arc from west to east, an object that doesn’t flash or possess red and green running lights (which is an aircraft), then you can be fairly certain that you’re looking at the International Space Station (ISS). Find out when and where to see it from the British Isles and Western Europe this week.
On the afternoon of 21 March, Comet 252P/LINEAR brushed by Earth just 14 lunar distances away. The comet’s separation from Earth now exceeds 20 million miles, but it’s still a suitable target for binoculars and small telescopes — if you know exactly where to look. Here’s our UK observing guide for 252P/LINEAR in the constellation Ophiuchus between midnight and moonrise over the coming week.
Having brushed by bright star Arcturus on 1 January, Comet Catalina (C/2013 US10) continues its trek through the constellations of the far north. Now a circumpolar object for the British Isles, in the early hours of 17 January it lies between famous double star Mizar (ζ Ursae Majoris) and the Pinwheel Galaxy (M101), virtually overhead in the UK.
Discovered on 31 October 2013 by the Catalina Sky Survey, C/2013 US10 is an Oort Cloud comet making its first foray into the inner solar system. Currently dashing northward through the constellation Boötes, Comet Catalina passes within ½ degree of Arcturus, the brightest star of the northern sky, on the morning of 1 January 2016.