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.
Many of you may have tracked down an asteroid with binoculars or a telescope, but have you ever seen one with the naked eye? If not, then June presents you with an opportunity to see the brightest, 1 Vesta, at a close opposition. What’s more, ringed planet Saturn lies close by to act as a convenient guide.
Possibly as large as The Shard in London, Apollo asteroid 2017 VR12 passes just 3¾ lunar distances from Earth at 7:53am GMT on 7 March. For a few nights, this magnitude +12 space rock is a viable target for small backyard telescopes as it gallops through Coma Berenices and Virgo, passing just 0.8 degrees from Spica on the UK night of 7–8 March.
While antipodean observers are enjoying views of the totally eclipsed Blue Moon in Cancer the Crab on the night of 31 January/1 February, Northern Hemisphere observers should look out for magnitude +6.9 1 Ceres at opposition in the northern fringes of the same constellation. The dwarf planet puts on a good show in the dark of the Moon during February.
As shooting-star devotees prepare for the naked-eye spectacle of the Geminid meteor shower in mid-December, owners of small telescopes can also witness the close passage of the meteors’ parent body — a curious “rock comet” known as 3200 Phaethon, galloping through the constellations of Auriga, Perseus, Andromeda, Pisces and Pegasus at a rate of up to 15 degrees/day.